The second week in August brought official news that the state is now about $300 million in the hole for last year’s budget and will fall short $400 million for next year. This in spite of our cost-cutting efforts from the Jan. session and the stimulus package from the Feds, which is coming in steadily, but slowly. We’ve already given teachers and state employees a de facto pay cut and rolled back any unspent money that was to be used for capital outlay projects (roads, schools & other bricks and mortar projects). Without raising “sin taxes” on soft drinks, alcohol and tobacco or rolling back tax breaks given to higher income residents (which the Governor and legislative leadership say is off the table), there’s nowhere to go but further cuts in education or health care. (Click here to continuer) At a Legislative Finance Committee meeting Aug. 12, the Secretary of Human Services said she was going to start cutting Medicaid by $10 million in September. And there are hundreds of millions more in cuts to come, she said, barring any new revenue. For low-income recipients (mostly women and children) that may mean cuts in benefits like dental services, prescription drugs or mental health counseling. Or, maybe increased co-pays and deductibles. On the other hand, she offered, the legislature could cut entire programs like the Personal Care Option, designed to keep seniors out of nursing homes and in the community. Get ready for a session where every group will be protecting their share of the pie, even as the pie itself shrinks with the loss of tax revenue that comes from a recession. Yikes!
No exact date has been set for the start of the session, which the Governor has said will last only one day. That’s probably wishful thinking unless an agreement can be worked out in advance on how to come up with the money agreed to by everyone.