Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dillon Says Budget Deal "Very Close"

Looks like the media blackout has (sorta) ended here. Speaker Dillon claims they are "very close" on an agreement for FY 2009-10, just three little problems, nothing major, right?

• Promise grants. The Senate has voted to eliminate the $140 million for students eligible to receive up to $4,000 from the state against college costs. Dillon said House Democrats oppose wiping out the grants but they don't oppose a reduction. He said he favors means testing as a way to reduce spending on the scholarships. Others favor a pro-rata reduction.

• Revenue sharing. Senate Republican cuts in funds that local governments use for police and fire protection, garbage pickup, street repair and other services are "too deep," Dillon said. Democrats favor smaller reductions that don't endanger public safety, he added.

• Community Health budget. The Senate has approved reductions in Medicaid coverage for the poor and other health programs that House Democrats find objectionable, the speaker said. He singled out cuts in prenatal services that wind up costing more down the road.

Education, public safety, and health care. Nope, nothing to see here, move along...

Actually, I hope he is right about it being "close". The Lansing rags and now the DNews and AP are reporting that they are working on a two-year time frame, hoping to address how the rest of the stimulus will be distributed for FY 2010-11 (the budget a year from now) - and that is where they are still far apart. As for the heat on the secrecy behind these talks, House Democrats will be briefed at a retreat starting tomorrow, so my guess is the rumors will really start to fly after that. And no, Dillon's health reform plan is not being used as a bargaining chip in these talks - which is a blessing.

In an odd way, it's turning out that our strange budget timing is actually working in our favor this year. According to the AP, states that had their budgets completed by July 1st are going to have to revisit them soon due to the continued collapse in revenue. Connecticut and Pennsylvania STILL don't have their budgets done due to partisan disagreements over taxes vs. cuts (and Pennsylvania looks like a mirror image of what we went through in 2007, right down to the "we had an agreement, no we didn't, yes we did" back and forth arguing), and Maryland, Arizona, Illinois, California, and Virginia are going back to the table, with others likely to follow over the next year.

For some cold comfort, just know that we are definitely not alone here. How did other states solve the fiscal mess? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, they raised taxes AND made some nasty cuts. Here is a truncated version of the cuts:

Public health programs: At least 21 states have implemented cuts that will restrict low-income children’s or families’ eligibility for health insurance or reduce their access to health care services.

Programs for the elderly and disabled: At least 22 states plus the District of Columbia are cutting medical, rehabilitative, home care, or other services needed by low-income people who are elderly or have disabilities, or significantly increasing the cost of these services.

K-12 education: At least 24 states are cutting aid to K-12 schools and early education programs.

Higher education: At least 32 states have cut assistance to public colleges and universities, resulting in reduction in faculty and staff in addition to tuition increases.

State workforces: At least 40 states and the District of Columbia have made cuts affecting state government employees.

And as far as raising taxes, they included our '07 increase here, and it looks like just about everyone had to follow us eventually:

In late 2007 and 2008, some 10 states enacted tax increases, closed loopholes, restricted tax credits, or implemented other revenue-raising measures. Major packages were enacted in Maryland, Michigan, and New York.

So far in 2009, at least 24 states have raised taxes, sometimes quite significantly, and another 13 states are considering tax increases. Increases have been enacted or are under consideration in personal income, business, sales, and excise taxes.

Portrait of a severe national recession. Be sure and thank the Bush Republicans for all the above. And, seeing as how the stimulus filled approximately 40% of state budget deficits, just imagine how much deeper the cuts would have had to go, or how much higher the taxes would have had to been raised, without it. Be sure and thank the nice President and the Democrats for that.

Our Big Three will meet again Thursday for a "marathon" session to see if they can resolve this. Wish them luck. I'm going to send all the good mojo I can their way, simply because I do. not. want. to go through this again. I doubt anyone else does either - but that doesn't mean we just let the Republicans destroy everything we have worked so hard to preserve. If they can't agree on 2010-11, I hope they cut it loose and at least get the coming year done. Soon.