By STATE REP. BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE
The General Assembly approved a $35.3 billion state budget this spring. While there were some spending reductions, we were able to maintain most funding for health and human services. In fact, we restored some cuts in the state program that funds medical care for the poor: low-income adults will again be able to access the full range of dental care, for example, not just coverage for problems that require a visit to the emergency room.
Elementary and secondary education will see a small increase, and the state will be able to pay down $1 billion in old bills. We will meet our statutory obligations to the state’s pension systems, to the tune of $6 billion.
But the budget relies on some one-time revenues — monies that won’t be available when we’re crafting the budget for the next fiscal year — and it balances revenues with spending by delaying payments to those who provide services to the state and its clients.
The budget doesn’t adequately account for the automatic reduction in revenue that is scheduled to begin January 1. The income tax is set to drop from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals, with further reductions down the line.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability reminds us that, since so much of our budget goes to payments that are not discretionary — pensions, debt service — the effect of reduced revenues will mean cuts for everything else — education, public safety, health care. CTBA projects that, given the coming revenue reductions, total spending for services next year will be nearly $5 billion less than it was five years ago.
We have made significant dents in state spending, cutting discretionary programs more than $2 billion and reducing the backlog of old bills from a high of nearly $10 billion to just over $4 billion. Our state workforce is the fourth lowest, as a percentage of population, in the country.
It’s hard to see how the state can solve its fiscal problems by cuts alone. Does it help our youngsters compete in the global economy by shortchanging educational opportunity? Must we cut dental care for adults again — and maybe for children, too? Provide less help for low-income working families struggling to pay for childcare? Slash funding for the services that keep the elderly in their homes?
Our challenges are real. I will work with my colleagues to ensure we meet them without undercutting education and without destroying the social services safety net.