It is Day 92 of the legislative session, and lawmakers still have not reached a compromise on the state’s budget. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez joins us from a very quiet Capitol.
Lori: What exactly has happened today?
Alexandra: It would be wrong to say nothing, but it feels like it. You know it’s bad when even lawmakers are taking to Twitter to vent about having to “hurry up and wait.” Since the Legislature failed to gavel out on Sunday, no standing committees have met, and no bills have been put to a vote. All activity is concentrated around a few key negotiators, with everyone else mostly sitting around as a deal – hopefully – gets brokered.
Lori: What is the holdup, exactly?
Alexandra: There are a few major sticking points with the budget right now. Because the state is facing a $4 billion deficit, the Legislature and the Governor have been in cutting mode. But there’s disagreement on what to cut and how deep to go. The biggest disagreement has been over education. At the very last stage in the committee process, the Senate Finance committee cut nearly $50 million in classroom funding. They originally said it was for leverage, but now they’re sticking to those cuts. They even called a press conference to defend their position, which the House and the Governor have both argued go too far. They said that because the state is in such a fiscal crisis, even education needs to feel some of the cuts. It’s also worth nothing that as of 4pm, this press conference was the only organized event to happen in the Capitol today. It’s also worth noting that at no point did the senators at the presser say we were on the verge of a budget deal.
Lori: Can you walk us through the dynamics between the negotiating parties?
Alexandra: This has been a somewhat unusual year in that House Democrats are even involved at all. Because the state is facing such a major revenue shortfall, the Legislature realistically needs to withdraw money from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve. That’s the state’s rainy day fund, which requires a three-quarter vote to tap. The Republican majority can’t get that vote without bringing some House Democrats along, so they actually have some leverage. This means you have the Republican Senate Majority, who is committed to their cuts to the operating budget; the Democratic House Minority, who want to see Medicaid expansion and increased school funding as part of a budget deal; and then the House Majority, who is somewhere in between.
Lori: So, how long is this going to take?
Alexandra: It’s anybody’s guess, and there is a friendly betting pool for bragging rights going in the capitol. Lawmakers and staff are having to continually reschedule their plane and ferry tickets. The strongest statement I’ve heard is from House Minority Leader Chris Tuck, who said the soonest the Legislature could gavel out is tomorrow night. But then again, he gave me the same answer yesterday, and could give me the same answer tomorrow.