By Dave Donaldson
A Five Billion dollar operating budget goes on the floor of the House tomorrow for consideration by the entire membership.
Finance Co-chair Mike Hawker says this year’s plan began with a frugal request from the governor — and it has stayed that way. He says the governor’s budget came to the House with a five-point-six percent increase over the amount approved last year.
But of that increase, really all but two percent of it is in formulaic growth programs: adding money to the public education fund, kindergarten through twelve; paying for the Medicaid system. So we’ve really only seen about a two percent growth in real agency operations in this budget – which speaks highly where you can get both sides of the political aisle supporting a budget with such minimal increases in operating expenses.
Democrats have been included in the committee work in putting the budget together. And Minority Leader Beth Kerttula says, although they would have put it together differently, her caucus was generally successful in seeing the important issues addressed.
Members have differing areas of expertise, we were all of different subcommittees and I expect each one of us will have something we’re concerned about. But overall, as a general matter, this was a good year in terms of negotiating with the co-chair of the Finance Committee. He’s worked very well with our Finance members, and I think there’s a better level of agreement on the budget as it comes out from the House.
Kerttula and Hawker point to successes such as increases in money to deal with the state’s work against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, as well as money to help foster children.
The biggest outstanding issue that is likely to come up as an amendment during floor debate is a reduction to the money the governor requested for preparing for an instate gas line. Kerttula says there’s concern among many members that the cut is an attempt to stop work on a project, rather than to allow it to proceed. Hawker recognizes that access to the gas is important to the public, but says the real debate is between the legislature and the administration over the best way to get the development underway. He acknowledges it’s not in the House Budget, but the Senate still can make changes – and there’s a capital projects budget in the works.
Not having money in this budget for instate gas development is not reflective of a desire or motive against instate gas. It’s reflective of a desire to make it right and make sure we make an investment that actually moves a project forward.
The administration has been working with legislators on budget issues – both in public before committee and privately over some specific subjects. The governor’s Legislative Liaison Gerry Gallagher says the budget is still a work in progress. He says the executive branch will continue to promote in the Senate what has been lost in the House.