So says the headline from the Senate Democrats, and it’s true. The final compromise on the Operating Budget, passed on the last day of the legislative session, makes sound investments in important matters – some, even, for counties. And, yet, it’s hard not to feel a little bit disappointed.
The operating budget adds just over $1 billion in new spending to the 2-year budget that passed last year – a budget that was already $52.4 billion after adding several billion dollars in new growth. According to the press release, the legislature invests $160 million toward homelessness and affordable housing; $60 million toward climate change; over $150 million toward childcare, foster care, and early learning; as well as millions toward K-12 education and health care, among other increases.
Not only does the legislature spend the extra billion dollars, they also leave $3 billion in reserves, That’s the largest balance in state history. Three. Billion. Dollars. In. Reserves.
Instead of creating an historic savings account, the legislature could have
- Funded marijuana revenue sharing at the amount agreed to when the legislation first passed. If they adhered to the plan, the local government share should have increased by $10 million this biennium. It did not. They even pulled the $3.5 million increase that was in the House proposal.
- Funded the extraordinary criminal justice costs counties incurred due to the prosecution and defense of aggravated murder cases. Here, too, they pulled the funding for the two counties the Senate proposal originally included.
- Maintained the full amount of local solid waste financial assistance at $9 million, which was included in both proposed budgets, rather than reducing the amount to $7 million.
- Replenished the Public Works Assistance Account, which is a revolving fund that would have replenished itself in the future if they stopped raiding it.
- Funded any level of increase for reimbursement of public defense costs.
- Invested in fish blocking culvert removal for counties.
- Provided funding for the state’s even year election costs in 2020, rather than waiting until 2022.
- Back-filled cuts to local government transportation programs resulting from the passage of I-976.
- Invested more in foundational public health services and the novel coronavirus outbreak. In fairness, there is significant funding provided for both, but it will, inevitably, prove to be inadequate in the near future.
- Maintained the $6 million provided in the House proposal to back-fill non-Medicaid crisis and behavioral health services rather than reducing the amount to $4 million.
- Provided funding for the implementation of the “open courts” bill.
- Provided funding for the PERS 1 retirement increase, as they did for all state agencies.
- Provided funding for implementation of the “no youth solitary confinement” bill as they did for DCYF and the Administrative Office of the Courts.
- Fully funded the Criminal Justice Treatment Account and provided additional funds to the cities, rather than eliminating their sweep but requiring counties to split those previously county-specific dollars with the cities.
Yes, the legislators are freaked out about what could happen with the economy because of the novel coronavirus. But, they appear to have spared little thought for how the counties could suffer as well – and suffer even more for the lack of a record breaking rainy day fund and $1 billion in new growth at the local level.