- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

Illinois — More than 11,000 state government workers took early retirement, about 3,000 more than lawmakers estimated when they approved an early retirement incentive plan last spring. The administration of incoming Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich will only replace about half of the departing workers. Blagojevich re-estimated the state's budget deficit at $5 billion, instead of the earlier estimated $2.5 billion. Retiring state workers will collect millions in unused sick and vacation days and be replaced by lower paid junior workers in the Human Services and Corrections departments. Blagojevich has promised to reopen prisons and mental health facilities closed by budget cuts. Reform of the state's death penalty process is pending in the Legislature as well as a possible fight to expand casino gambling.

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Indiana — A bill allowing women to breast feed in public was introduced after a number of women complained they were asked to leave a business while breast-feeding their children. The state faces a $750 million budget deficit and doesn't have money to spend on Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon's $1.25 billion initiative to create jobs and energize the state economy. O'Bannon said everything is on the table right now except K-12 education, pensions for teachers and higher education which account for 55 percent of the budget. The governor doesn't want to use Indiana's share of the tobacco settlement to plug the recession hole and has already made cuts in Medicaid.

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Iowa — Iowa legislators faced a budget shortfall of $50 million to $80 million but hope to improve education and healthcare and stimulate the flagging economy. Lawmakers have to decide what to do about state's the Medicaid deficit.

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Kansas — Democratic Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius closed budget meetings to the media. Lawmakers face $150 million to $250 million in cuts because of a fiscal 2004 budget $740 million less than fiscal year 2003. Education accounts for more than half of state spending and a committee may look at slashing Medicaid coverage. Rental fees for broadband service over Southwestern Bell, AT&T; and Sprint lines could be an issue in the legislature.

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Kentucky — Gov. Paul Patton released 567 felons from local jails, prisons and halfway houses right before Christmas because the state did not have enough money to keep the prisoners behind bars. Lawmakers failed to agree on a biennial budget in April arguing over what to cut because of a projected deficit that has been pared to $394 million. Patton tapped the state's rainy day fund and has been running the state government by fiat. The Corrections Department cut 318 jobs and slashed administrative, medical services and other costs. Patton even decided not send out an official Christmas card to save the state Democratic Party $21,000. He now is proposing elimination of corporate income taxes in favor of a business activity tax.

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Michigan — Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm by law must submit a balanced state budget with no deficit. Lawmakers may try to raise the state's 8 percent take from Indian gambling casinos as a way to reduce a projected $1.8 billion shortfall. Former Republican Gov. John Engler basically cut everything, except K-12 education spending, which at $400 million is the largest single expense in the budget. Class size could become an issue. Tax increases are not a priority in the Legislature. Deep wells and groundwater are expected to be issues as the new Legislature deals with policy directives of the Michigan Great Lakes Task Force.

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Missouri — Democratic Gov. Bob Holden cut $67.1 million in planned spending and has called for a cost-effective housecleaning of Missouri's foster care system. Lawmakers may look at more social service program cuts to close a possible $300 million deficit in the $18.9 billion 2003 budget. Holden said state colleges and universities must develop research to earn more federal higher education aid and private funding. Republican lawmakers are pushing to restrict punitive damages in personal injury lawsuits.

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Nebraska — Republican Gov. Michael Johanns faces a $673 million deficit. Johanns' veto of a tax increase last year that included one-year hikes in income, sales and cigarette taxes was overridden by the Legislature, which moved money around in two special sessions. With education accounting for half of state spending, state government will feel the brunt of the budget cuts. A bill that would eliminate oldest and most expensive tax breaks for large corporations has been introduced in a bid to raise $30 million. Another measure would raise taxes on alcohol and extend last year's sales tax increase. deficit: $673 million. About 20,000 to 25,000 low-income seniors, disabled and children are expected to lose eligibility for Medicaid health insurance, which has grown 13.5 percent annually. Johanns opposes expanded gambling beyond Indian casinos, but the state is surrounded by states with legalized gaming. Lawmakers may debate lethal injection as an option to the electric chair to carry out executions and limit death row appeals.

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Minnesota — Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty was elected on a pledge of no new taxes and will have to live by it. Minnesota faces a projected $4.56 million deficit through mid-2005. Pawlenty says everything in this year's $31 billion budget — except new taxes — will be on the table, but Medicaid services to the poor will be hard to cut in a state known for its compassion.

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North Dakota — The state has no budget deficit, believe it or not. Republican Gov. John Hoeven cut every general fund budget 1 percent across the board and borrowed $25 million from the Bank of North Dakota, the only state-owned bank in the United States. Tax collections have been higher than expected since July. Lawmakers are considering legislation to abolish the income tax and replacing the revenue with an expanded sales tax.

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Ohio — Ohio faces a $5 billion budget deficit and will have to plug that gaping budget hole before the start of the new fiscal year. Lawmakers are expected to look at placing video lottery terminals, blackjack and video poker at racetracks. The state has debated riverboat gambling for years but has not considered any formal legislation. Concealed carry laws passed last year and prescription drug coverage for seniors could be the hot issue in 2003. In his State of the State, Gov. Robert Taft proposed tightening Medicaid eligibility for seniors as a means of saving money.

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South Dakota — The state faces a $42 million deficit with school funding representing about 52 percent of the state's budget. Gov. Mike Rounds proposed cuts in Medicaid and state government services in his first State of the State address. "The budget will dominate the next legislative session," said state GOP executive director Laura Schoen. "The problem is there is a lot of spending to provide services for which there is a lack of revenue."

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Wisconsin — Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle faces a Republican Legislature and a projected $3.2 billion deficit and he and GOP lawmakers have vowed not to raise taxes. Wisconsin reformed education funding in the 1990s to take the pressure off property taxes and Doyle last week warned school officials school funding is not sacrosanct. Doyle will have to come up with significant cuts in the state budget within six months. He and lawmakers have agreed to keep pet projects out of the budget. Republicans have proposed a constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature before taxes could be increased. Lawmakers also resurrected bill that would make it a felony for prison staff to engage in sexual activity with inmates. Lawmakers also are expected to take another look at video poker in taverns.

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