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Budget talk continues in House and Senate

The House and Senate overrode a gubernatorial veto of a section of a budget bill declaring that the sand used by oil and gas drillers is exempt from the state sales tax. The legislature also officially adjourned the 2014 Fiscal Session last week after approving a $5 billion budget for state government. Now many will begin campaigning. The primaries will be May 20th which is only 8 weeks from now.

All but a few of the 300 bills approved during the session were budgets for state agencies, public schools and institutions of higher education. One non budget measure passed will save the state more than $1 million because it avoids the necessity of holding a special election between now and the November general election to fill the lieutenant governor’s office. Under the act, if the office becomes vacant within 10 months of a general election, in which there are candidates for lieutenant governor on the ballot, the governor shall not call a special election.

The state has a balanced budget law called the Revenue Stabilization Act. It is not actually a budget bill because it does not actually appropriate state funds. It prioritizes state agency spending requests into categories. If state tax revenue falls off because of a slowing economy, state agencies will reduce spending. The funding for the schools is not cut but other agencies would be reduced.

It is estimated that $126 million will be available in surplus funds at the end of the current fiscal year, but the legislature agreed to spend only $21.9 million. So $100 million will be kept in reserves and it can be looked at in the next session, which will be in January of 2015. Out of the surplus, $5 million will go to a revolving loan fund for charter schools for construction. Another $5 million will go toward installing fiber optic cables to help public schools increase their broadband capacity. Another $5 million will go to the Correction Dept. for accumulated overtime and holiday pay for employees. Another $3.7 million will be spent by the Department to reimburse county jails for holding inmates when state prison units were full. Also $719,000 will help the Correction Department to hire 14 security guards so it can open an additional 200 beds at the North Central Unit near Calico Rocks. Also, $2 million of the surplus will go to the Health Department for its breast cancer program.

The budget assumes that state government will grow by $109 million next year, even after accounting for $85 million in tax cuts that were approved in the 2013 regular session. The Dept. of Correction’s budget will increase by $3.1 million bringing its annual funding from the general revenue fund to $316 million.

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