With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down work at the Capitol for a month and a half, legislators were forced to reprioritize our work this year, and conduct as much as possible in a shorter period of time.
The biggest task we undertook was adopting a state budget for Fiscal Year 2021. We were able to hold cuts to state services to a minimum despite projections from the governor and the state Board of Equalization that we faced $1.4 billion, or 17%, less to appropriate than the revenue first certified by the board in February.
Despite these dire predictions, state budget leaders were able to craft a state budget that resulted in cuts of only 4% for most state agencies and only 2.5% for public schools. They did this by utilizing a variety of measures, such as using state reserves, cutting some one-time expenses, allowing off-the-top apportionments that normally flow to state pensions and transportation funding to be redirected to education.
The pension apportionments do not take from the corpus of the funds, nor do they reduce the benefits state retirees receive. Instead, they are from additional money the Legislature sends to the funds each year to help improve the plans’ funding ratios. Transportation funding is offset by the allowance of bonds for some roads projects. In fact, transportation will receive about $4 million additional this year than last because of these bonds. Pension funding will be restored in future years with an increase. This is a temporary redirecting of these funds to ensure education is protected during this time of economic uncertainty.
The governor vetoed these bills and the overall state budget. Because this would have erased the work the Legislature has done in the past few years to increase money for our schools and classrooms and to fund teacher pay raises, we overrode the governor’s vetoes. This is a fiscally conservative budget that protects core state services.
We still have money in reserves to help us in Fiscal Year 2022 if necessary, and we expect the economy to rebound now that businesses are starting to reopen.
In addition to the budget, the Legislature passed dozens of policy bills last week. A 4% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for state retirees that had formerly passed the House was approved by the Senate and moved to the governor’s desk. A bill that will allow women brutalized by the abortion industry to seek civil damages passed both chambers. Anti-red flag legislation that helps ensure Second Amendment rights are protected for people not accused of a crime won final passage in the House. We increased penalties for those who commit domestic violence by strangulation and porch pirates who steal packages delivered to homes or businesses. We approved screening for dyslexia for students not reading on grade level in early grades. This is just a sampling of the important legislation we passed last week. Many of these bills have been signed into law by the governor or await his action. If all goes well, we will be done with our work by May 22. Then, we turn our eyes toward the budget for the next fiscal year and legislation that will be filed for next session.