Working with a sense of urgency

Rep. Peter Buckley

Rep. Peter Buckley

There is a sense of urgency that is different from what I have experienced previously in Salem. I think this is due to a very clear awareness of the huge financial challenges involved with the budget, and to the knowledge that we have only five months to not only develop the budget but also to develop the policy bills in both the House and Senate to do the restructuring of state government that the budget will depend on.

The Governor presented his recommended budget on Tuesday, and he has done a very good job, in my view, in framing the work we have ahead of us. He’s been operating in an inclusive, wide open approach, taking every good idea that’s come up from any and every source. Rep. Dennis Richardson and I did a joint media appearance after the release of the budget, and we both stated our gratitude for the governor’s approach and for the work of all involved to get both parties to a point of a good deal of common ground as we start in on the very difficult work ahead to flesh out the budget and make it work.

It is going to be difficult. We’re now at the point where ideas and theories have to meet with the realities of finances, time and divided interests. As good of a framework as we’ve been presented with, there are still vital areas of the budget where we need to push further.

Most importantly, while the Governor has been able to come close to flat line funding for many areas of state services, funding for our K-12 schools in his recommended budget does not reach the funding levels we have in our current 2009-11 budget. Federal stimulus dollars helped us reach a budget of level of about $5.75 billion for K-12 in the current budget, but given the fact that there are no stimulus dollars this year, and given the huge, $3.5 billion gap between our current revenue and the costs of what it would take to fund all currently funded services in 11-13, the Governor has proposed only $5.54 billion in funding for K-12 for the next two years. Districts all over the state are hurting, facing increases in their health care costs and other costs of providing education to our kids, and this funding level is something we need to improve during our work.

The other very important issue in the Governor’s budget proposal is how much he is counting on significant reforms in health care overall in order to balance the budget while still providing needed services. Sen. Bates will be central to those efforts, and again, the Governor is working in an inclusive, proactive manner in this area as well.

Even with the extent of the challenges we’re facing, I’m enjoying the work with Dennis Richardson on the overall budget. It is going to be a tough, but I hope productive, five months to get our work done.

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