The Republican legislative majority moved behind closed doors on Thursday to consider cutting Gov. Phil Batt’s 1998 school aid proposal by millions of dollars.
The GOP majority already has cut the current year’s school aid package and eliminated cash for a modest 1998 state worker pay raise.
“We talked about the politics of lowering the school budget” from the $705 million Batt recommended, House Speaker Michael Simpson admitted. “The fact is we may not have enough money to provide $705 million.”
No specific amounts were discussed in the 20-minute House Republican caucus, Simpson said, although he mentioned the prospect of lowering Batt’s recommendation to $700 million or $701 million.
The Senate Republican majority met for just over an hour later in the day, apparently seriously divided on the question of reducing the proposed aid package - something that created severe political fallout for the party in the 1980s.
Members were told to advise leadership of where they stand by midday today.
Simpson made no attempt to link concern about spring flood damage to the latest talk of paring back the governor’s already spare spending plan for the year that begins July 1.
He said flatly that cuts above the $13 million legislative leaders plotted out last week were being driven by a mounting concern that Batt’s forecast for revenue collections during the new budget year is overly optimistic at 5.5 percent.
“Talk to anybody out there off the record and none of them will tell you he thinks revenues are going to come in at 5.5 percent,” the speaker said.
Batt’s school aid proposal was just $15.5 million more than this year’s original general tax support package, but $19 million less than the Board of Education requested.
Batt’s proposal turned more lucrative earlier this week, however, when budget writers voted to cut this year’s general tax allocation by $10.7 million.
Overall 1997-1998 education support - even if Batt’s recommendation survives - has already been cut $1.5 million because budget writers robbed that out of a special endowment fund to partially offset this year’s cut in general tax support for schools.
Although state school aid has been a supremely sensitive issue in past sessions, legislative leaders believe they have political leeway to cut up to $9.6 million that Batt wanted to use to boost the statewide teacher salary guidelines by 1.5 percent.
Since lawmakers have already moved to eliminate the 2 percent pay increase Batt recommended for state workers, Simpson and others believe equity suggests removal of at least part, if not all, of what amounts to a pay increase for teachers.
The statewide salary guidelines set out the amount of teacher and administrative payroll the state will cover with general tax money. Any compensation above that has to come from school district property tax revenues.
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