Monday, March 31, 2008

We're Going to Get a Great Education Bill! April Fool's!!!!!!!! I couldn't resist. Actually, we may get some money out of the session, but it probably won't be too much.

The Senate unveiled its education funding bill last Thursday morning. The bill provides approximately $30 million in new per pupil revenue for school districts through the elimination of the permanent school funding subtraction, making that revenue new money. The ironic thing is that the Senate partially pays for that by sending the remaining QComp dollars back to the general fund (similar, but not the same, to what the House did). The Senate provision is approximately $30/PU or $36/ADM. The House simply spreads the QComp dollars as part of their one-time revenue enhancement of $51/PU. The Senate basically takes it one more step with pretty much the same (albeit) smaller result. The advantage in the Senate bill is that the permanent school fund change is not a one-time event and, if gaining final approval by the Legislature and garnering the Governor's signature, would provide on-going revenue for school districts. But initially, it would simply be somewhat of a "swap," with QComp money being used to fund a portion of the Senate plan.

Elsewhere in the Senate on Thursday, the portion of the Education Policy bill accompanying the Education Funding bill was pared back dramatically with a strike-everything amendment. This move was expected, but what was a bit disconcerting is that a number of provisions that were perceived, at least by the lobbying community, to have little or no controversy associated with them were removed from the bill. One of the removed provisions was that of eliminating that nasty little statement on a referendum question where the same per pupil amount is being renewed that insinuates that there will be a tax increase by voting for the question. That language will be re-inserted in the bill in the Senate Tax Committee tomorrow morning.

End Game Starting to Take Shape. All of the funding bills are going to be rolled into one mega-giant-enormous-colossal-humongous-behemothic-jumbo-mammoth-Brobdingnagian-elephantine- mother of all mothers omnibus "everything but the drain plug for the kitchen sink" budget correction bill. The bill will contain both budget cuts and a few budget increases and reserve fund adjustments to balance the $935 million revenue shortfall facing the state for the remainder of the biennium.

This obviously sets up a real showdown, as it will likely elicit a gubernatorial veto. What happens after an initial veto (and I admit I am assuming a veto and a failed override attempt, and you know the old saying about assuming--call me if you don't) is anyone's guess, but the Legislature will likely have a number of vehicle bills at its disposal that it could load up with various provisions and send to the Governor in smaller bits. Whether any of these efforts would be successful is likely dependent on the ability of the Governor and the Legislature to be able to find some level of agreement and that is hardly a slam-dunk at this juncture.

In the end--and this would be a tragic end--no one may get anything and the Governor may be left to solve the budget problem by himself through the use of the various budget reserves and unallotments of existing appropriations (which can only be employed after the budget reserves are emptied). This is the exact opposite of Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss' "best of all possible worlds." While not being the worst of all possible worlds, I think one could see the worst of all possible worlds from the world that would result from the Legislature dropping everything into the Governor's lap. Here' hoping cooler and contemplative heads will prevail as the Legislative Session moves into its next phase.

Hope to See Some of You on Thursday. It's MASA spring conference time and I hope to haunt the hallways at the Bloomington Sheraton to see as many of you attending the conference as I can. It's always good to see membership in a more relaxed setting and it's always a relief to get out of the Capitol this time of year. If I don't see you, have a great conference.

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