To call the pace of legislative budget develop glacial may be a disservice to glaciers.
The March 4 announcement that the biennial budget gap would be a billion dollars larger than anticipated threw a wrench into already-difficult budget negotiations. Since then, neither the House nor the Senate has shown signs they’re ready to release a budget. With just 24 days left in this legislative session, the pressure is on to find a solution to the big budget problem.
One tempting alternative is to sell off payments the state is scheduled to get as part of a 1998 38-state law suit against tobacco firms. In 2002 the legislature created the Tobacco Settlement Authority to managed the sale of bonds backed by tobacco settlement money. The “securitization” of the bonds generated $415 million.
Fast forward to 2011 when some lawmakers in the state House are eyeing this strategy as a way to generate badly needed cash. The Senate, the governor, and even the state treasurer oppose securitization. Treasurer Jim McIntire told the Associated Press today, “Those are long-term revenue streams that we’re locking up for short-term purposes.” (Wait–is that something like backfilling state cuts with tuition students fund with long-term student loans?)
Today House Democratic budget writers described their budget status as getting close to agreement and predicted a budget could be out as soon as early next week. The Senate Democrats will follow soon after. We won’t know until then which issues really separate budget negotiators.