With another $467 million revenue shortfall looming, legislators at Saturday’s Eggs and Issues event said they don’t expect the state’s budget woes to improve anytime soon.
The lawmakers, who had breakfast with Lawrence Chamber of Commerce members at Pachamama’s, 800 N.H., also took the time to address less pressing matters, such as the naming of little bluestem as the official state grass.
The legislators — state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City; state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence; House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence; and state Rep. Tony Brown, D-Baldwin City — talked the day after Senate Republican leaders said they will push for a $300 million tax increase and Gov. Mark Parkinson announced $86 million in cuts to state road projects.
“The numbers are indicating that the unemployment rate is going back up and we are nowhere near a recovery from this recession. And the bad news is going to continue for the next few months,” Davis said.
Among the biggest budget concerns are cuts to school districts. Francisco said she would support an increase in property taxes to help support schools. Davis said proposals that could help save some school districts would also exacerbate inequities in how schools are funded.
Holland, who is running for governor, said it’s not just administrators and teachers worried about slashes to school financing, but parents and students.
“I am seeing very much a heightened sense of awareness from my constituents in general about the need for revenue. I do believe there will be a combination of revenue enhancements and cuts that will get us through,” Holland said.
As for other means of helping the state’s budget, the group talked about the need to reduce tax exemptions, garner tax from Internet sales and consolidate the number of county judges in rural areas, who carry far lighter caseloads than those in urban areas.
Davis said Friday’s news that Republican leaders in the Senate support a tax increase was encouraging. But he said it would be difficult in the House to find a consensus on what combination of tax increases — whether it be cigarette, sales, income or liquor — will get enough votes to pass.
“I think if people continue to hear from their school districts, their social service providers, their public safety officials that they can’t sustain any more budget cuts, which is certainly what I am hearing, I think the legislature will come around to the fact that we need new revenue sources,” Davis said.