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NO BUDGET NEWS NOT GOOD NEWS

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Normally this time of year, the Legislature is entering its final phase, and policy debates start to wind down and budgets take shape.  This year, legislators say it could be another two weeks before we see budget targets from both chambers (putting us right at the "end" of session).  While we call the 110th day of session (this year May 1) the "end" of session - it's really only the day legislators lose their expense payments and therefore have to pay for their own rooms, meals, transportation, and staff.  They can stay as long as they like, but it starts to get expensive when they pay for a hotel room every night and restaurant meals every day.

The first step in the budget process is for legislative leaders in both House and Senate to divide up the budget pie, and tell each of the 7 appropriations subcommittees how much they have to spend.  They take the total amount of revenues expected, and divide up 99% of that (usually, although we hear the House wants to go much lower, maybe even as low as spending 93% of that number).  But this year legislative leaders have not been able to do that because they still have not decided how much they want to give to K-12 education this year (an amount that is supposed to be set by the end of February). 

The conference committee on education funding met two weeks ago to work out the differences between the House proposal to increase K-12 funding by 1.25% and the Senate 4% proposal.  The Senate offered to split the difference at 2.65%, but the House quickly rejected it.  The House proposal would cost about $50 million; the Senate compromise costs more than $100 million.

A few other budget challenges emerged as well.  The Social Services Block Grant, which provides $16 million in funding for the Department of Human Services and Mental Health/Disability Services regions, will probably not be funded by Congress this year.  Right now, funding is in neither the US House nor US Senate budget bills.  In addition, the House Judiciary Committee sat on an important child support bill that will cost the state $30 million in federal funding for DHS and another $2 million for the courts if not passed this year. This is one of those issues that will likely end up thrown into a budget bill.  

The continued stalemate over education funding spells trouble for the resolution of the rest of the state's $7 billion budget.  It's beginning to look like legislators mayl get out just in time for their Fourth of July parades.