Many issues remain unresolved as we move beyond the mid-point of the Legislative session. Remaining issues are the 2017 budget as well as the 2018 and 2019 budgets, school funding formulas, and determining the amount of funding required for the budget. It seems that absolutely everything revolves around whether there is available funding this year.
The Senate took up the 2017 budget adjustments Wednesday (the rescission bill). The Ways & Means Committee made a few adjustments to the PMIB funding for the rescission but no significant adjustments to the budget part of the measure. It has been interesting to see that the Governor has come out strongly opposed to making cuts, especially to schools, but is still insistent on trying to beg, borrow and steal to make the overall budget work. That certainly makes for some interesting challenges and dynamics within the Statehouse.
Both the House and Senate continue working on the FY 2018 and 2019 budgets. With the statement I just made about the Governor not wanting to cut funding for schools, the question of exactly where the money will come from remains. The Governor vetoed a tax bill that would have gotten a good start in resolving the budget issues. The tax increases the Governor has proposed are relatively small amounts that do not have enough effect so the structural budget issues would continue, but perhaps at a somewhat slower pace.
A couple of things that have occurred in the last few years have mostly gone unnoticed by many. To balance the State General Fund portion of the budget, many items that would normally have used SGF funds have instead been put into the All Funds portion of the budget. That means that many budget items are now funded by additional fees and taxes outside the general fund. A good example is that Tuesday the Appropriations Committee heard HB 2180 which increases the privilege fee, which is a tax, on insurance policies. Something like that is not at all transparent and is very hidden.
I have been going to the Tax and K-12 budget committees, when I have time, to stay informed on the happenings there. In Tax they continue to work the more mundane issues, waiting to see what the Senate may propose. If the Senate does not put some type of tax proposal out soon, I suspect House tax will kick things up a notch and get another proposal out of committee for consideration.
The K-12 Budget Committee has been working all session to come up with a new funding formula for schools. They are at the point where a bill is being drafted and the Committee hopes to be able to hold hearings on the funding formula early next week. The K-12 Budget Committee has certainly done their due diligence by working and discussing a variety of ideas and, after lengthy committee discussion, drafting a proposal. From the discussion it appears the bill will likely look similar to the old formula except for more emphasis on issues the Court specifically addressed.
As I look at the calendar, the session days are going by quickly. We only have about three weeks until first adjournment and still need to figure out the budget and how to pay for the budget. As stated earlier, the Governor has made it clear he is not in favor of reducing school spending, but has not given a clear idea as to what type of revenue increases he will accept to pay for the budget, other than his own.
Early Wednesday morning was the State Prayer Breakfast. Attendance was down a little but still a very good turnout with around 650 people. The speaker was Major General Julie Bentz, who was excellent. Several area pastors joined us as well. Great inspiration to start the day!