2009 LEGISLATIVE SESSION MEMO #26

On Monday, the Appropriations Chairs did not return until late in the afternoon and then they caucused in the House, went to Session, and left for the evening.

On Tuesday, the day began slowly again with a few committee meetings here and there. Then after lunch the House Democrats were called to caucus and rumors spread quickly through the building that a deal had been struck on the Finance Package, at last. After an hour behind closed doors the House Democrats came out and the report was they were CLOSE, but not there. The details being discussed were 1-cent increase to sales tax, 3 percent tax on utilities, 2 percent surcharge to income tax paid for personal and corporate entities and an increase in sin taxes: tobacco (10-cents per pack), alcohol (5 percent), wine (4-cents per bottle), and beer (5-cents per six pack). The House went into Session and came out after an hour and the Appropriations Chairs left to go back and work on the budget, while the remaining House Democrats caucused again. After another hour the House Democrats came out and there was still no agreement on the Senate proposed Finance Package. The Appropriations Chairs continued to meet to work on the sections of the budget, though the largest section of the budget, Education, has not been discussed yet. Education has as many as 52 items flagged in controversy so there is much work yet to be done. Meanwhile, Speaker Hackney was flying back and forth to Philadelphia for the National Conference of State Legislators, everyday. As President of NCSL, he has had to preside over various meetings so the frequent flyer miles are adding up for the Speaker.  Back and forth to the airport and he will return again Wednesday in hopes of getting an agreement on the tax package. The Governor’s people have been roaming the halls too, advocating for $1.2 Billion in funding. They are worried things will be worse next year and there won’t be any will to increase taxes further. They also are pushing hard for more money in public schools. The Governor is against the class size increase.

On Wednesday, the Senate Democrats caucused in the morning to review the latest tax package that the Finance chairs had worked out late Tuesday night. The House was not happy about the utilities tax, they had already cut out the tax on social security so a new plan was back on the table. The Senate Democrats met for more than 1 and 30 minutes and when they came out they avoided the press and walked off with rather resigned somber faces. They had reluctantly, it appeared, agreed to go along with the latest proposal. The House Speaker returned in the afternoon and the House convened their Session at 2:00 PM. They worked their way through bills for an hour before recessing to determine if the Democrats could support the newest version of the tax package. After about 45 minutes into the caucus the House Democrats came out of the meeting and headed back to the floor with what appeared to be consensus on the tax package. The Appropriations Chairs did not meet at all on the budget on Wednesday. In addition to working on budget issues, the Senate finally appointed conferees for SB 804 the bill to expand the Personal Education Plans in public schools. The other news on Wednesday was the Press Release from Bill Harrison to resign as CEO of the Department of Public Instruction following the Friday court decision to give June Atkinson the authority to run the DPI.  Bill has decided to retire on August 31 from his position as head of the Department, but maintain his Chairmanship of the State Board of Education. Senate leadership and others around the building were not particularly happy with the court decision and there is talk of making further deep cuts to DPI or requiring a complete overhaul, to leave little for Dr. Atkinson to manage. The new dynamics will be interesting as the State Board makes policy and delegates authority to the State Superintendent, who took off for Colorado to attend meetings immediately following the court decision. She returned to her new role on Thursday (where she was seen roaming the halls of the legislature.)

The Appropriations Chairs, Rand, Garrou, Michaux and Crawford worked by themselves on Thursday to resolve the outstanding issues in the budget, except for Education. The Senate Democrats went behind closed doors to caucus after they finished their Session. The hallways crowded with lobbyists, they emerged after approximately 1 hour 30 minutes only to announce the finance deal with the House was off the table. They decided they will have to start over again.  The Governor is still pushing for another $200 Million in revenue for public schools, beyond the $982 Million agreed upon earlier in the week. She wants to eliminate the class size increase. In addition, she opposed the 2 percent income tax surcharge, saying this will impact the poor and middle class people in the State. Governor Perdue appeared on the evening news scolding the members and telling them they need to be working all weekend. Needless to say, the House and Senate members left Thursday afternoon and are not expected to return until late Monday afternoon. A Continuing Resolution will need to be approved next week since the existing CR expires Friday, July 31st.  The train is off the track again and it is either going to be a long haul these next few weeks or maybe they will miraculously find the right combination of revenue and appropriations to finally pass the budget. Either way it is going to be a tough fight to get this done. Hopefully the weekend will give way to cooler heads and a budget before Labor Day. Here’s Hoping!!!

House Committees:

Education

SB 894 UI/School Teachers Related Amendments Favorable Report to PCS and re-referred to Finance.

Judiciary III

SB 38 Municipal District Elections 2011/Census Favorable Report and sent to the House Floor.

Senate Committees:

Finance

HB 311 Continue School Construction Funding Favorable Report

Economic Recovery

SB 960 Ensure Accountability RE: Stimulus Funds Favorable Report as amended.

Commerce

SB 849 Repeal Motor Vehicle Safety Inspections Rescheduled July 28.

House Floor:

HB 1255 Sex Offenders/Permanent No Contact Order House Concurred and Ratified.

SB 509 Revenue Laws Technical, Clarifying, and Administrative Changes Passed third reading and sent to the Senate for Concurrence.

SB 931 Commercial Drivers License Changes Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate for Concurrence.

SB 658 Modify Supplemental Retirement Board/Furloughs Conference Report Adopted

SB 863 Purchase Service/Certain Employment Conference Report Adopted

SB 38 Municipal District Elections 2011/Census Passed second and third reading and sent to the Senate for Concurrence.

HB 385 Public School Activity Bus Use/Stecoah Valley Center  House Concurred, Ratified, and signed by the Governor.

HB 589 Insurance/Cover Hearing Aids Passed second and third reading as amended and sent to the Senate.

HB 1078 Report School Violence to Superintendent/Required Notification Policy House Concurred and sent to the Governor.

Senate Floor:

HB 1289 Lottery-No Check Cashing Sites/High School Ads Failed second reading.

HB 1452 Local Government Code of Ethics Passed third reading and sent to the House for Concurrence.

SB 658 Modify Supplemental Retirement Board/Furloughs Conference Report Adopted

SB 863 Purchase Service/Certain Employment Conference Report Adopted

HB 311 Continue School Construction Funding Passed second and third reading and Ratified.

SB 368 Various Changes in Motor Vehicle Laws Passed second and third reading and Ratified.

Bills in Committee Next Week:

HB 1274 State Health Plan Blue Ribbon Task Force
HB 1261 Protect our Kids/Cyber Bullying a Misdemeanor

Hearing on State Purchasing and Contracting Practices (August 3 meeting date)

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