Budget Update 07-15-05
House members have been hopeful that they could reach an agreement with members of the Senate on the budget prior to next week's deadline; however, a few details remain unresolved and negotiations are continuing. The House and Senate must reach an agreement on a revenue package and a roughly $17 billion spending bill. Legislators will have to pass another continuing resolution (CR) to keep government running beyond next week's deadline while they finalize the budget. It is thought that the next CR will run through August 5, 2005, and will include money for public schools, community colleges, and universities, so that those budgets can be set and hiring decisions made. The continuing resolution under which state government continues to operate at current levels expires Wednesday, July 20, 2005.
Negotiators have reached a tentative agreement that would maintain the current sales tax and personal income tax on individuals making an average of $800,000 annually, but they will continue to discuss the state's cigarette tax. The Governor recommended an increase in the cigarette tax earlier this year of 45 cents, the Senate recommended 35 cents, and the House budget included a 25-cent increase. The House had difficulty pulling together enough votes to pass a 25-cent increase, and it is unlikely it will be much higher. The state's current 5-cent cigarette tax is the lowest in the nation and is well below the national average of 89 cents.
A majority of House members are committed to passing a budget that ensures adequate funding for our priorities such as education at our K-12 schools, universities and community college, health care and human services for our state's neediest citizens, public safety programs for our neighborhoods, and pay raises for teachers and state employees. I am hopeful that a budget agreement can be reached soon so lawmakers will be able to finalize or vote on other non-budget bills such as the lottery, a study on the death penalty, lobbying reform, and clean cars legislation.