Tuesday, March 25, 2014

House Education Finance Walks Through Bill.  It was a relatively quiet day at the Legislature today.  The House Education Finance Committee went through HF 3171 section-by-section and outlined the sections of the bill that propose to provide new revenue to school districts for the coming school year.  The centerpiece of the bill is the 1% ($58/PU) increase in the general education formula that would take effect for the 2014-2015 school year.  There is also an increase in the English Language formula, an increase in pre-school developmental screening, and increased revenue for reduced-price lunches.  The committee took testimony at the end of the hearing, which clears the deck for tomorrow's hearing to be dedicated solely to discussion and voting on amendments.  Republican criticism of the bill zeroed in on a couple of items and my guess is we will see amendments expressing that criticism tomorrow.  Two areas of concern they expressed are the lack of any expansion of the early childhood scholarship program and the lack of reform contained in the bill.

Mad Dash in Sight?  There's always a rumor that rolls around during the non-budget session that the Legislature is going to try and wrap things up before the religious holiday break that is scheduled for the third week of April.  There are reasons to believe that the rumor is more than just idle talk this year.  The passage of the "first" tax bill last week really kicked things into gear and indications this week show a lot of energy and desire for a quick ending to the 2014 legislative session.  To me, the primary evidence pointing in this direction is that both bodies are well ahead of deadline in putting together their omnibus funding and policy bills, as the bills will be ready by the end of this week, which is a full week ahead of the funding bill deadline the Legislature set early in the 2014 session.  The other indication that the Legislature is serious about a quick ending is that it appears they have decided to passing one major funding bill that will contain all of the funding from the various funding divisions as opposed to passing individual bills for each funding division.  This would greatly streamline the conference committee process as instead of having conference committee proceedings advance independently and meander in their own directions, everything would be funneled into one bill.  There would still be individual budget targets for each area, but balancing changes that might exist between the two bodies would be much easier.  Lastly, it appears the Senate will be providing its allocations to its funding divisions tomorrow or Thursday, which would also accelerate the process on that side of the legislative street.

Don't get me wrong.  There is still some large legislative timber to be felled for the Legislature to finish its work and not have to return after the Passover/Easter break.  The anti-bullying bill has yet to clear the Senate floor and the bonding bill is always an adventure in and of itself.  That said, I haven't seen the kind of commitment to an early finish in a number of years.

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