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Published on Friday, March 20, 2015

Anticipating the good, bad or ugly in the State Budget

For a welcome change, there’s more revenue flowing to the state coffers than in the past several legislative sessions. But is it enough to meet both escalating costs and demands for services? Legislators are poised to begin serious discussions and public debate on this once the House Democrats unveil their proposed 2015-17 operating budget within the next seven to ten days. Shortly thereafter, Senate Republicans are expected to unveil their version.

House Democratic leaders have long signaled a belief that projected 2015-17 revenues aren’t sufficient to meet the needs of our citizens and communities. With a slim 51-47 majority, they’ll need to have a minimum of 50 votes to pass a budget with any new sources of revenue.

Senate Republicans have long signaled a belief that 2015-17 revenues may be sufficient to meet the needs of our citizens and communities. Their 26-23 working majority to pass their version of a budget provides a bit more wiggle room, at least at first.

We expect dueling budgets will soon emerge staking out upper (House) and lower (Senate) thresholds, and in the end, there may well be a budget with some new sources of revenue. The questions are – how much, from what sources, and at what price to the budget items cities care most about?

The diversity of our 281 cities and towns means some care more or less about different parts of the state’s budget. However, AWC has been asked to represent the broad interests of all by advocating for the retention of current shared revenues, lifting the cap on liquor profit distributions, gaining a rightful share of new marijuana taxes, protecting critical infrastructure funding programs like the Public Works Trust Fund, and advocating for passage of a transportation package that addresses state and local needs. All of these priorities are at risk depending upon how legislators craft their final budget deal.

Groups of city and county officials have been jointly meeting with leadership in the Legislature. Our purpose is to demonstrate a united front on these priorities. In addition, we are reminding them that our costs rise faster than revenues, and they should consider providing more local tools to allow us to raise our own revenues.

Our crystal ball is cloudy on how and when this will all get sorted out. We’ll let you know when budget proposals emerge and what impacts they have on our priorities. Your AWC Board of Directors is poised to convene to evaluate House and Senate proposals and to take positions, if necessary, on preferred proposals or portions of budgets. Please know that we’ll ask you to weigh in with your own legislators to help them decide what’s critical to fund. Raising your voice during this crucial time is more important than ever!