We will pick up the action on Tuesday morning. If you recall, the legislature had worked into the night on Monday attempting to come to an agreement with two House bills that moved money from the Education Trust Fund (ETF) and the Education Trust Fund’s Rolling Reserve to the General Fund (GF). If you need to catch up, you may read more on that from Monday’s blog here.
The House passed version of HB30 included moving $50M of revenue from the ETF to the GF. The Senate version doubled that to $100M. I did not support this vote as discussed in Monday's blog linked above. It is important to note that the Education Community/Associations in Montgomery – from the State School Superintendent, the State School Board Association and the Superintendents Association – all opposed moving the $100M and quite frankly were ready to descend on the Senate with pitch forks after this vote was taken. I was happy to be on their side of this vote Monday night! But by mid-morning on Tuesday their position had changed. The Education Community/Associations in Montgomery suddenly came out supporting the compromised bill that moved “only” $80M instead of $100M...what a difference $20M makes! I’ll let them explain their “flip” in position – as the State Superintendent does here – but remained convinced that this move did nothing to reform our budgeting process and actually does what I’ve been against from the start; we dug a hole in the Education Budget to support the General Fund Budget. That’s certainly not the type of reform I support as the vote sheet reflects. The compromise bill passed the Senate in a vote of 21-11.
As I had heard from teachers when the $100M transfer was voted on the night before, I was most interested in how the classroom teachers felt about this development. I received some very interesting responses to this tweet, mostly outside of social media.
The other votes that came up were for the increase in cigarette taxes, increase in fees for nursing home beds and increase in fees for prescription and prescription refills. The cigarette tax increase will be paid for by consumers. I’m told that the nursing home bed and prescription fee increases are “provider taxes” meaning the nursing homes and pharmacies will pay those fees, not the consumer. But I’m not buying that; economics simply does not work that way. While these fee increases may be paid for by the businesses, we all know the true cost will be spread over to the consumers. I opposed each of these tax increases as the respective vote sheets reflect: Cigarette Tax increase (passed 21-13), Nursing Home Bed increase (passed 20-11), Prescription increase (passed 19 - 13).
Interesting to note that while I opposed the cigarette tax, I had some people tell me they were okay with it as they do not smoke. I maintain that this is not about the cigarette tax. Even if you don't smoke you should ask yourself - what are they going to tax next? This was a classic "gateway" tax and as difficult as this one was to pass the next tax proposed will be easier. I know some people support increased taxes but we also need to consider that government will grow and consume as much as we are willing to feed it - the next tax may come after you!
The final $1.7B General Fund Budget for FY16 level funds Mental Health, Medicaid, Corrections, Human Resources, the courts and funds the prison reform legislation passed during the General Session. Other state agencies will make cuts ranging from 1%-5.5%.
The Legislature will return to Montgomery for the 2016 Regular Session in about 5 months and while I remain optimistic I’m fairly certain we will face yet another budget crisis with proposed tax increases. I remain committed to fundamental budget reform and will oppose taxes until after we’ve done the hard work of reforming the budgeting process and passing state government efficiency measures such as getting the state out of the alcohol business by closing the ABC Stores.
I plan to resume the monthly newsletter in October and – unless something interesting occurs – will not resume the blog until the Legislature returns to session in February of next year.
I am honored to be your voice in Montgomery and will continue to vote my conscience rather than political whim. I look forward to visiting with you in the days and months ahead. Now that the legislative sessions are over I look forward to returning to a routine of working across the district, visiting classrooms, senior centers, local businesses and other places like street fairs and festivals where I can interact with the people I represent.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of any assistance.
Semper Fi - Bill