The state’s top leaders know the current economic downturn will mean a lot less money is available for essential programs, but they can’t seem to agree on how much less.
Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat and Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson were openly dubious about the need to cut $1.36 billion from state appropriations. Gov. Kevin Stitt had written to legislative leaders that actual state revenue available for appropriations will be that much below what the Legislature was authorized to appropriate in February.
But he hasn’t shown them the details of where that estimate comes from, which has led to their public doubts.
There’s no question that the double impact of the COVID-19 shutdown and cratered petroleum prices will hammer state finances. There are limited federal resources, state reserve funds and other resources to fall back on, but no one supposes that it won’t work out to be a very big hit. The critical questions are: How big and how to adjust to it.
A $1.36 billion reduction would be more than a 16% cut on the amount lawmakers have anticipated having to spend. A hit of that proportion would devastate all levels of state services.
If that’s the case, the governor should do a couple of things.
First, he should share the details of where his calculations came from with the Legislature and the public. Everyone is more likely to accept hard news, if they can see the details.
Second, he needs to stop pursuing plans that don’t represent state priorities, such as a plan to put federal emergency education money into tax credits to benefit private schools. If we’re looking at devastating state budget cuts, we can’t afford to underwrite private schools.
If the governor will share the harsh realities with the Legislature and the public, we think everyone will be willing to do their part, but it has to be a fully informed, consultative process that doesn’t waste any money on low-priority pet projects.