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PACE PICKS UP AT STATE CAPITOL

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The pace is picking up at the Capitol as your elected officials close in on their first deadline, called a "funnel."  Committees need to get bills assigned to them out before the March 6 "funnel" deadline; those that do not get voted out before the deadline will see no further action this year.  Over the next two weeks, subcommittees will scramble to get bills ready for committee action, and committees are bracing for marathon meetings.  Most of the action will happen next week - you can see the subcommittee and committee schedules for each day here.

Luckily this year the number of highly controversial, politically charged bills is pretty small.   But there was one bill that emerged this week that caused a stir.  Yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee took up the controversial bill to increase the state's gas tax.  At the last minute, two House Republicans refused to support the bill, and House Democrats refused to help get the votes needed. In a move that has not been used for decades, the Speaker of the House removed the two Republicans from the committee, and replaced them with himself and another gas tax supporter.  The bill finally came out 13-12.  High drama for day 40 of the 110-day legislative session.

Looking ahead beyond the funnel, the Revenue Estimating Conference will review the state's revenues for the year, and make estimates on March 19.  These estimates let legislators know how much money the state is likely to collect in taxes this year.  Legislative leaders in both House and Senate are waiting to set budget targets until that date, so they know how much they can spend this year. 

As we reported earlier, the state's budget forecast looked bleak.  The previous estimates showed only about $200 million in new money to spend, and all of that has been promised.  The state needs $200 million more to fill the gap in Medicaid (and that is after $50 million in "savings" from a managed care contract that will go into effect mid fiscal year), $200 million to replace property taxes because of the business and industrial tax cuts made last year, and $150 million to fund schools with 1.25% increase (with Senate Democrats wanting to up that to 4%). 

Legislators will continue working on policy issues for now, but once the estimates are out, the focus will start to switch to budget.  So it's a good time to get warmed up, and start talking to your local legislators about the issues you care about.  Remember, you can easily email your state legislators using our Grassroots Action Center. You don't even need to know their names or email addresses - the system will find them for you.  So check it out here.