The state legislature has reached an agreement on the budget, filling the estimated $1.3 billion 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 $1.3 billion 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 4% cut, while education would receive a 2.5% 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% down to a common cut of about 4% this is truly an innovative and creative budget,” said Representative Kevin Wallace (R) Appropriations and Budget Chair.
“Our teams in the legislature have been working every day remotely to put together a budget to fulfill our constitutional duty,” Representative Charles McCall (R) House Speaker added.
Here’s the fly in the ointment. The governor controls $800 million in federal aid and legislative leaders said 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 and deploy the CARES Act. I haven’t had contact with him, no,” Wallace said.
“We want some transparency from the governor’s 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,” Senator Roger Thompson (R) Appropriations and Budget Chair said.
The governor is not commenting on the budget but denies walking out of a budget meeting.