Municipal Bulletin Board
(from the January 2010 Maine Townsman)

Lawmakers Return for ‘Brutal’ Sessions
(from Stateline.org, Staff Reports, January 4, 2010)

Lawmakers in 13 states return this week for legislative sessions that will be dominated by austere budgets and major elections in November.

Regular 2010 sessions will get under way in Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“It’s going to be the toughest year yet,” Raymond Sheppach, the head of the National Governors Association, told The Associated Press. The wire service reported that the states’ ongoing cash crunch is likely to mean deep spending cuts or higher taxes and “could also mean new tolls to fund road projects, more prisoners being released early to trim corrections budgets, and the end of welfare programs that don’t bring matching federal dollars.”

In Nebraska, “the word around here is that if your bill has a fiscal note” – costs money or results in a loss of tax revenue – “it’s not going anywhere,” one state senator told the Lincoln Journal-Star. “We’re not going to spend a dime. There’s no new money,” another senator said.

Hanging over this year’s legislative sessions are the November elections, in which voters in 37 states will choose governors and 46 states will choose legislators. In many states, election-year politics could complicate negotiations over how to balance budgets.

It’s already happening in Illinois, where Comptroller Dan Hynes (D) – who is running for governor against incumbent Pat Quinn (D) – recently refused Quinn’s request to borrow $500 million to pay off some of the state’s bills, saying he had concerns about the way the state’s finances were being managed.

Hynes’ refusal prompted an angry reaction from the governor, “who noted that the comptroller approved a larger short-term loan in 2008 under similar circumstances,” the Wall Street Journal reported. “This year he refused to do it because he’s running against me for governor,” Quinn told the Journal.

Budget battle under way in California
(from Stateline.org, Staff Reports, January 12, 2010)

Two days after California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) delivered an optimistic state of the state address that called on both political parties to work together, he released a budget plan that the Los Angeles Times said paves the way for “another year of paralysis in Sacramento.”

In his speech to lawmakers Jan. 6, Schwarzenegger said that “California has the means and the mind power to solve all of its problems.” But the no-new-taxes budget blueprint he delivered on Jan. 8 – aimed at closing a fresh $20 billion deficit after legislators made $60 billion in cuts in 2009 – was met with fierce criticism from majority Democrats, who dislike the deep cuts to areas that already have seen sharp reductions.

“With regard to the bulk of the budget proposal, I have one reaction: You’ve got to be kidding,” the Democratic leader of the state Senate said, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Democratic speaker of the state Assembly called the governor’s proposal a “big pile of denial.”

Among the areas targeted for cuts in Schwarzenegger’s budget plan, according to the Times, are “the CalWorks program for welfare recipients; the In-home Supportive Services program intended to keep the elderly and disabled out of nursing homes; Healthy Families, which provides healthcare to children; prisoner rehabilitation; Medi-Cal, the health program for the poor; and Cal Grant awards for college students.”

Some federal lawmakers also don’t like Schwarzenegger’s budget. Taking an aggressive new approach to what he considers an unfair distribution of federal funds to the states, Schwarzenegger is relying in his budget on $6.9 billion in as-yet-unapproved new federal money, the Washington Post reported.

“Schwarzenegger is asking Washington to reimburse Medicaid expenses at the national average of 57 cents on the dollar, up from 50 cents (worth $1.8 billion). He is also pleading to make permanent certain federal stimulus outlays set to run out at year’s end ($2.1 billion),” the Post reported.

Meanwhile, the New York Times called attention to a groundswell of voter anger in California that could result in a series of dramatic, budget-related ballot initiatives in November, even as it noted that voter input “helped get California into its budget crisis (by) forcing spending in some areas while limiting taxation in others.”

“The number of initiatives so far, while high, is not the largest in history,” the Times said. “But the rage that underlies them has not been seen in decades, said lawmakers, pollsters, political consultants and the proponents.”

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