Legislators see governor’s budget as only a starting point

It was interesting to listen to the discussion Tuesday afternoon, as the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations met after Gov. Mike Rounds’ speech, in which he outlined his recommendations for state government’s 2011 budget that starts July 1, 2010. The committee members received copies of what they know as the “blue book” prepared by Department of Legislative Audit staff showing all sorts of financial data about state government, including how much cash is sitting in dozens of accounts for state departments, agencies, boards and commissions. The listing covers several pages and ranks the amounts on hand, as well as tracks how the amounts change from year to year. The book is assembled first for the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee. But GOAC members work with JCA members, and some legislators serve on both panels, including GOAC’s current chair, Rep. Deb Peters, R-Hartford. The House JCA chairman, Rep. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, reminded the appropriators that the cash in many of the accounts can be used for other purposes if the Legislature so decides, so long as enough is retained in the account for annual operations. “That’s another thing to look at,” he said. Peters also suggested the appropriators examine the operating costs and usage of state airplanes for government travel. Appropriators clearly seem ready to go their own way in 2010, especially because the governor proposed few real cuts and offered no real solution to the financial difficulties other than hold down spending and hope for an economic turn-around before all of the state’s $107 million of reserves are spent. Throughout the afternoon after the speech, legislators frequently made the observation that the governor’s budget proposal is only a starting point. Rounds is term-limited and the 2010 legislative session will be his eighth and presumably last, a situation that will only further embolden legislators and further undermine his relevancy.  Seven years of little innovation, no new efficiencies or savings of any significance, an emphasis on protecting his hometown’s economy, and showing minimal backbone on spending — he complained but still signed the budgets into law when the Legislature spent more than legally required on public schools, for example– are coming home to roost.

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