Column: A Budget Divide

Column: A Budget Divide

Work on a budget for the FY 2013-2014 biennium occupied most of the General Assembly’s time this past week. Two budgets – one to complete FY 2012 and another for the FY 2013-2014 biennium – were proposed by the Governor and were introduced on his behalf in both houses of the legislature. The bill for FY 2012 is essentially a reconciliation of actual and projected revenues with a cash revenue exceeding projections by over $600 million. This amount will be carried forward to the next biennium. As I have stated before, it is a mistake to call the amount "surplus" as many drastic cuts had been made to programs to ensure that the budget was balanced without a deficit.

Since the beginning of the session, members of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees have been going over the Governor’s proposals independently of each other. Last week both committees reported their revisions to the Governor’s budget based on policy differences with the Governor and their own assumptions on all aspects of spending. The Governor’s budget proposal effectively goes away as the revisions adopted by the two committees are before the legislature.

While both committees start at the same point with the governor’s proposal, their versions are very different. As soon as both houses adopt their versions and reject the other house’s budget, a conference committee of about 10-12 legislators is appointed to come up with a budget acceptable to both houses of the legislature and the Governor, who must sign it.

The budgets of the two houses differ markedly in the amounts provided for education and safety net funding and the way transportation is to be funded. Clearly there is not enough money to go around to meet all the needs that have been identified. Some members’ votes on the final conference committee report reflect the view that monies have been dispersed among needs about as effectively as can be within the revenue limitations we have. Others including myself may vote against the budget because it leaves too many needs unmet.

Action on the budget in the Senate took place just before I filed this column. An expected 20-20 tie resulted with the Lieutenant Governor not authorized constitutionally to cast a tie-breaking vote. Negotiations to approve the budget may well include some compromise on the reorganization and power-sharing in the body. That process could extend past the planned date for adjournment of the session.

The details of the conference committee will not be known until the issues in the Senate are resolved, but it is clear that the adopted budget will leave many programs underfunded and many needs unmet. Some of the unmet needs will be felt by everyone as there will be little relief for traffic congestion and the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens will have some really big holes in it.