- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Lawmakers can keep outside jobs

MONTGOMERY | A Montgomery judge on Friday struck down controversial Alabama Board of Education policies that would have forced legislators to choose between their jobs at state community colleges and their elected offices, the Birmingham News reports.

In his eight-page ruling, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Johnny Hardwick handed a victory to lawmakers who challenged the state board policies while chastising the board for actions that he said would have a harmful effect on the public.

“While defendants contend that forcing legislators to choose between their livelihoods and their service to the Legislature has no effect on the public, both policies will have a substantial effect on the public because … they will affect the very composition of the Legislature, which will be altered by the elimination of a sector of the public - postsecondary education employees - from the body,” Judge Hardwick wrote.


State works to keep jobless benefits solvent

SACRAMENTO | Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved Friday to bolster the financial health of California’s nearly broke fund that pays unemployment benefits to the state’s jobless, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The governor added the state’s unemployment insurance fund to a growing to-do list for fixing California’s faltering finances that he hopes lawmakers will tackle when he calls a special session of the Legislature next week.

With joblessness at a 12-year high and the economy falling into a recession, the 73-year-old Depression-era program soon will be in the red. The insurance fund, which is financed by taxes paid by employers, is projected to post a $1 billion deficit by the end of March.

If lawmakers and the governor don’t come up with a solution, the fund will be in the hole by $2.4 billion at the end of 2009 and $4.9 billion at the end of 2010, according to a new forecast from the California Employment Development Department. The latest estimate is half again as bad as what the department projected as recently as May.


‘Ugly’ outlooks leads to special session

TALLAHASSEE | Calling Florida’s financial outlook “ugly,” the chief steward of the state’s dwindling finances said Wednesday that Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Legislature need to hold a special lawmaking session as soon as possible, the Miami Herald reports.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said that state economists will likely announce on Nov. 21 that Florida’s tax revenue, now $800 million below forecast, will slow by another $1.2 billion, leaving a budget gap of nearly $2 billion.

Mrs. Sink said legislators need to act quickly to figure out what programs to cut and whether to find a way to raise fees, taxes or find other sources of money.

“The time is now,” she said. “We know it’s not going to be a pretty picture next Friday. Whether it’s $700 million or $1.2 billion - whatever the number is, it’s ugly. And so we all need to be prepared very quickly when the final official word comes in.”


Lawmakers have ‘rainy day’ option

BATON ROUGE | As they grapple to fill in the gaps in next year’s budget, the Jindal administration and lawmakers could tap into Louisiana’s multimillion-dollar “rainy day” fund to try to stave off some deep cuts.

Nearly $285 million would be available from the fund to put toward the more than $1 billion shortfall projected for the new fiscal year that begins July 1, but the governor’s top budget crafter says that’s not on the table yet.

Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis said she wants agencies to improve efficiencies and cut low-performing programs to streamline government and balance the budget. She’s asked departments to review their programs and judge their performance as part of the documents they submit for consideration as Miss Davis’ office works on the governor’s budget proposal.

As for the rainy-day fund? “We haven’t looked at that as an option. We’re not considering that at this time,” Miss Davis said. “We feel its premature to have that discussion.”

State officials won’t know the latest estimates of how much money the state is expected to have for spending in the upcoming 2009-10 year until a revenue forecasting panel meets in December. Miss Davis said she wants to see those numbers before any talk about tapping the rainy-day fund.

However, some lawmakers already have said they’re eyeing the money as a partial fix to next year’s budget balancing problems, rather than make dramatic cuts to health care or education.


Session targets ‘safe haven’ law

LINCOLN | Nebraska officials prepared Friday for a special legislative session designed to deal with a unique “safe haven” law whose unintended consequences have allowed parents to abandon nearly three dozen children as old as 17. As the session to correct the law approached, a 5-year-old boy was dropped off at an Omaha hospital on Thursday night. Earlier in the day, a woman dropped off two teenagers at another Omaha hospital, but one of them, a 17-year-old girl, fled. Authorities have not found her yet.

As of Friday afternoon, 34 children had been abandoned under the Nebraska law, five of them from other states.

Nebraska was the last state to enact a safe-haven law, intended to take in unwanted newborns. But unlike laws in other states, Nebraska’s doesn’t include an age limit.

Some observers have interpreted the current law as applying to children as old as 18. But Health and Human Services officials have said a separate state law about juveniles won’t let authorities take in children older than 17.

When lawmakers in the unicameral Legislature meet Friday afternoon, at least two bills will be introduced calling for age limits. One bill proposes an age limit of three days; the other would let parents drop off children as old as 15 years.


Medical school closer to reality

BOISE | The state of Idaho is one step closer to having a medical school. Wednesday in Boise, the Legislature’s Medical Education Interim Committee met for the third time to discuss the possibility of opening a medical school in Pocatello, Local News 8 reports.

During the meeting, a motion was passed to adopt the three-prong approach, which was approved in August by the Idaho Medical Association. The plans include a four-year medical education program, expanding the residency program and adding more state-funded medical school seats.

The committees made a motion to recommend the State Board of Education also adopt the approach.

The state board is meeting Tuesday. The committee will also make its own recommendations to the Legislature.


Low growth rate limits future spending

AUSTIN | In a sign that the economic meltdown is seeping deeper into Texas, top state leaders portrayed a gloomy economic outlook last week as they adopted their spending cap for the next two-year spending cycle.

Despite an expected surplus, the Legislative Budget Board, led by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, used what they called the lowest economic growth rate ever adopted - 9.1 percent - to limit state spending for the next two years.

The LBB adopts a spending cap every two years that parallels the predicted growth of the state economy, based on personal income. Estimated growth for the 2010-11 budget cycle is down from 13.1 percent two years ago.

“I can almost guarantee you we would have a deficit between what spending demands are and available revenue,” if not for about $7 billion left unspent two years ago, said LBB Director John O’Brien.

He urged lawmakers to again “save some money for what might be a rough 2011 session.”

Lawmakers will write the 2010-11 state budget when they convene in Austin on Jan. 13.

From staff and wire reports

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