The state legislature has reached an agreement on the budget, filling the estimated one-point-three billion dollar hole caused by COVID-19. But even the lawmakers who drafted the budget doubt the figures are correct.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the state board of equalization, which certifies the state’s tax revenue, announced the budget is one-point-three billion dollars in the red going into fiscal year 2021. So the legislature used those figures to build a budget even though they believe those numbers are way off. “We have absolutely protected core services and we have balanced the budget in a very meaningful way.” Senator Greg Treat (R) President Pro Tempore said.
Under the legislatures proposed spending plan, most state agencies would see a four percent cut, while education would receive a two point five percent cut. That would be offset by additional federal funds, so in the end education is actually getting an increase in funding. “I will tell you there’s never been a budget that I love and of course I don’t love this one but from where we started if you look at across the board cuts of 17-percent down to a common cut of about four percent this is truly an innovative and creative budget.” Said Representative Kevin Wallace (R) Appropriations and Budget Chair.
Representative Charles McCall (R) House Speaker added, “Our teams in the legislature have been working every day remotely to put together a budget to fulfill our constitutional duty.”
Here’s the fly in the ointment. The governor controls 800-million dollars in federal aid and legislative leaders say they governor walked out on negotiations in March so the legislature really doesn’t know how much money it has to spend. “We have reached out looking for an executive and legislature summit to discuss how we would deploy those funds. Right now it’s up to the governor and his directions to utilize an deploy the CARES act. I haven’t had contact with him, no.” Wallace said.
Senator Roger Thompson (R) Appropriations and Budget Chair said, “We want some transparency from the governors office. We’ve asked to be involved and so far we’ve received just crickets from the letter we sent. There’s been no reply.”
The governor is not commenting on the budget, but denies walking out of a budget meeting.