After leaving the capitol for a month and a half because of COVID-19 concerns, the legislature returns next week. And they’ll be facing a massive $1.3 billion budget deficit and the possibility of a special session.
“To put that in perspective it’s larger than the budget deficit that led to the teacher walkout,” said Representative Jon Echols (R) Majority Floor Leader.
And that means cuts to state agencies and services; we are hearing anywhere from three to ten percent.
“The legislature is going to have to do their best to get creative to minimize cuts but still recognizing that we lost over 18% of our total budget revenue,” Echols said.
But that figure could be deceptive. The governor can spend 800-million federal dollars in the fight against COVID-19. He hasn’t indicated yet exactly how that will be spent, but that could take a large chunk out of the deficit. The legislature is also confused about the budget revenue estimates.
“With very little math one of the things that’s kind of strange is the $1.3 billion deficit was assuming we didn’t open the state on the 15th. But we’re reopening the state on the first so I don’t understand why that wouldn’t change the estimate from the tax commission. But it hasn’t.” Echols said.
Because of the apparent breakdown in communication between the governor and the legislature, the legislature will build a budget next week based on the numbers it has and may be forced to return later in the year to tweak the budget.
“If that ends up that that was wrong, you could see the possibility of a special session where we come back in and say we got more money than we planned on so we are going to re-appropriate this to agencies while they need it.” Echols said.
The Capitol will be open to the public Monday, but folks will have to go through a screening process before they go in.