Richard Piatt Reporting The clock is ticking on the Legislature to balance the budget. But answers about education, state employee raises, and Medicaid funding are still up in the air.
Their deadline is two days away, which means this is an extremely stressful time for both the people doling the money out, and those who are waiting for it.
Sen. Al Mansell, Senate President: “We have a lot of work to do.”
Senate President Al Mansell was talking about all the bills they're debating this year, but the same applies to the budget too. Eight-billion dollars-plus is the total. And the sticking point could come down to just a fraction of that---100-million dollars.
Rep. Marty Stephens, House Speaker: “It’s generally good news. The problem is there are pent up demands and there are needs greater than the demand, which is not unusual up here.”
Lawmakers are pledging what they call 'significant' increases to public education, for higher education, and to fund Medicaid growth. But no one can answer how much 'significant' is right now, even though the deadline for having that answer is just hours away. No one should expect a lot though.
Sen. Al Mansell: "We do not have enough ongoing money to meet the ongoing demands, when you take Medicaid, and you take benefits, and retirement and wages."
That includes state employees---earlier promised a two percent raise. The money situation could reduce that to a one percent raise, but again, that's not final.
The lateness of the hour has people scrambling to preserve their interests in this budget year. The only other certainty: An infusion of cash available only this year---so called 'one-time money' will probably save a few important programs.