Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Budget burden on lawmakers

Gov. Patton warns General Assembly

The Associated Press

        FRANKFORT - The General Assembly, which hasn't been able to get past a political dispute to pass a budget, now has serious financial issues to deal with on state spending, Gov. Paul Patton warned Monday.

        And a Republican legislator said the problems are only going to get worse with little prospect in sight for meaningful talks to resolve differences on campaign finance.

        “The longer we wait and the worse the projections get, the harder it will be to get a budget, even forgetting campaign finance,” said Rep. Jeff Hoover, R-Jamestown.

        Rep. Harry Moberly, D-Richmond, chairman of the budget-writing Appropriations and Revenue Committee, said the budget presents a “reckoning” with choices “harder than many of the members have faced in their careers.”

        Mr. Hoover, the House GOP floor leader, was the go-between who carried negotiating proposals back and forth between Senate Republicans and House Democrats during sessions earlier this year when the budget negotiations failed.

        After the regular session and special session, Mr. Hoover floated a compromise to break the impasse over public financing of gubernatorial campaigns, but nothing has happened for months.

        As a result, the state has been operating without a budget since the fiscal year began July 1. Mr. Patton had to slash more than $500 million in state spending in the last fiscal year and has been operating with his own spending plan this year. But the spending plan is based on revenue estimates now considered wholly unrealistic.

        “I think we've gotten through this thing so far without making cuts that seriously impacted delivery of services,” Mr. Patton said Monday. “We have come to the end of the line for that option.”

        Mr. Moberly said lawmakers will be faced with making deep cuts in state spending on education and human services or raising revenue. Mr. Moberly said he hoped there could be a middle ground of some cuts and some money raised.

        Mr. Patton said he has some ideas for resolving the state's impending financial foundering, but declined to reveal them. In any event, Mr. Patton said it will not be his job.

        “In the end, the hard choices will be the GA's - and there's no way they can avoid them,” Mr. Patton said.

        But Mr. Moberly said Mr. Patton will likely set the tone for the budget debate. If Mr. Patton makes no recommendation for raising taxes, the legislature is unlikely to muster the political backbone to do so alone.

        “I think his recommendation will make a big difference,” Mr. Moberly said.

        The panel of economists who make the state's official revenue projections on which spending must be based are to meet Nov. 1 and will likely make dramatic revisions in the current projections.

        But there is no apparent movement in the legislature.

        And Mr. Hoover said political considerations in the form of legislative elections in November have taken priority.


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