Republicans vigilant on available funds
By State Representative Susan Lynn
State tax revenues are suffering as collections are currently $135 million below their mark. Before wish lists for the new session are even considered, many want to know how the state will manage our way through a budget already more than $100 million dollars short in the first quarter.
Last May, legislators debated over the Copeland Cap; a constitutional amendment that limits the growth of the budget to the growth in personal income. Signs of a softening economy worried Republicans as they cautioned against spending every penny of the massive $1.5 billion surplus, plus an additional $220 million dollar cigarette tax increase on new programs. In addition, it was difficult to understand how by spending so much more money we could not have been exceeding the Constitutional limit of the Copeland Cap by far more than was stated.
But we’ll have to manage. Most business managers will adjust to the economic downturn by making tough decisions like restraining spending, reducing new hires, curtailing unnecessary travel, and by putting expansion plans on hold. The state should do no less.
It is clear that 2008 may not be the time to fill wish lists by starting new programs or expanding old ones; after all, we can’t continue to ignore the inflationary demands of necessary commodities forever such as those needed to repair and build new roads. It is time to concentrate on government’s core basis for existence; those things that have an immediate impact on justice, health, safety or supply.
The Department of Education is hoping for an additional $133 million dollars next year to help fully fund the newly revised basic education plan. A little more controversial is a request of $30 million dollars to expand the pre-k program by 38%. The department notes that this addition to the currently $80 million program would help to advance the state toward universal pre-k; an $196 million goal.
Some may call legislators who are cautious about such an expansion mean spirited; others realists. We already have a burgeoning state budget shortfall. There will likely be local government budget shortfalls. Many local school systems are struggling to afford a desperate need to repair or to build new schools just to accommodate the current students. And there is much data that indicates no long term beneficial effect from early education.
Many wonder, why not just concentrate on what we already know needs improvement, and that which will save money in the long run - accountability. How much more would taxpayer dollars be multiplied by ensuring greater accountability?
Getting through this revenue downturn will require restraint, leadership and cooperation. We were proud of how our state employees efficiently handled the departmental budget cuts in 2003 and 2004. No doubt they will handle 2008 with the very same degree of professionalism.
Republicans will continue to respect the taxpayer’s hard work by remaining good stewards of the dollars they provide, and by displaying an understanding for the pressures they face in their own family budgets every day.