There have been several plans (or combination of plans) on the table that can resolve our General Fund Budget situation including raising taxes, moving funds from the Education Trust Fund, gambling/lottery, and holding the line on the budget passed during the regular session that provided equitable cuts across state government forcing us to live within our means.
Why don’t we ram something through? I hear from some people that we have a Republican super-duper majority – why don’t we ram something through to fix the budget? And therein lies the problem with a super-duper majority; splinter factions spin off (good or bad) and the majority becomes weakened and unable to control the situation. Groups supporting moving funds from the Education Trust Fund or those opposing new taxes are examples of this. Everyone wants to resolve the situation but there are certain elements of the budget process that they are unwilling to concede.
Do Your Job? I’ve also heard some people say that we’ve failed to do our jobs in passing a budget. I submit to them that we passed a workable balanced budget in the Regular Session; not a perfect budget but an executable budget. The Governor immediately vetoed the budget.
Proving my point - looking back to January, when the original budget shortfall was claimed to be $700M, which fell to a claimed $540M when the Regular Session started in March, to a claimed $310M this month in the Special Session (the budget chairman maintain the shortfall is between $150M and $200M). Aren’t you glad I didn’t support the $700M tax increases?
What happened at the end of the Regular Session? As recent as today I was asked what happened to the Senate in the last day of the Regular Session. Why did we adjourn a day early while the House remained in session? I thought this story was well known but have found out otherwise. So here goes -
Insight on the closing days of the Regular Session – As the House was unable to pass any of the Governor’s proposed tax increases, and eventually passed the General Fund Budget to the Senate on the 22nd Legislative Day, the Senate was left with just 8 Legislative Days to work towards a budget solution. About two days before the end of the session, Senate leadership briefed us on “the plan”. The Senate would pass an amended House General Fund Budget and immediately adjourn from the session. The House would vote to accept the budget as amended – foregoing a conference committee – send the budget to the Governor and promptly adjourn, preventing the Governor from vetoing and sending the budget back. The plan worked EXCEPT, for unknown reasons, the House didn’t adjourn. The Governor recognized that the House was still in session and immediately vetoed the budget, sending it back to the House (following the AL Constitution, vetoed legislation is returned to the body of origin). The House took up the vetoed budget, overode the veto, and passed it to the Senate but without the Senate in session the budget didn’t pass nor did it die. Hence, we are in a special session.
Insight on the First Special Session - and just so folks know the facts; following is insight on the First Special Session. In early July the Governor unexpectedly called the Legislature into a Special Session. It was widely known a Special Session would be called this summer but as both the House and Senate were working in small focus groups to determine solutions to resolve the budget it was assumed (agreed upon?) the call for a Special Session would come later in August...but the Governor made the call for a Special Session in July, presumably to get ahead of the pro-gambling lobby that was ramping up activity. Both the House and Senate met for the Special Session on the day called by the Governor and immediately recessed to continue working towards a joint resolution solving the budget shortfall. After a three week break the study groups were to have developed an agreed upon path forward for both the House and Senate. Both bodies re-adjourned for the Special Session on Monday – with 11 Legislative Days remaining (the Constitution limits a Special Session to 12 Legislative Days in a 30 day calendar). Once in session it didn’t take long to realize that the plan(s) had limited support and no single plan introduced had broad support. Almost from the start, the Special Session was doomed and as recent as this morning the Governor has said there is not a budget that we can pass that he will sign.
Today’s Action - Earlier in the week the House passed an embarrassing unrealistic, scare tactic budget targeting Medicaid with a $150M cut. The Senate General Fund Budget Committee met today and promptly substituted that budget with the budget both bodies passed in June...that the Governor vetoed. This budget will be voted on in the Senate on Monday and, assuming everyone sticks to “the plan” will be passed to the House where leadership has informed us they will concur and again pass to the Governor on Monday or Tuesday. Tuesday is the final day of the Special Session as it is the 30th calendar day since the call.
Once again we will have passed an executable budget – not perfect by any means – but workable. Just as the many families that I represent must make their family budget work to live within their means, the state must live within its means.
Semper Fi - Bill