A three-billion-dollar hole

Next year’s state budget shortfall could easily top $3 billion. That’s what lawmakers just heard from the fiscal research staff of the General Assembly. State revenues next year are expected to come in $2.1 billion lower than what is needed to pay for current programs and services.

That does not include the $800 million shortfall in the State Health Plan over the next two years or expected increases in student enrollment that will cost $200 million next year. If Medicaid costs grow five percent, which is low for a recession, that will cost $150 million. A ten percent increase would cost $300 million.

ABC bonuses for teachers cost another $100 million. Add it all up, including splitting the difference on Medicaid projections, and you get a $3.025 billion budget hole. And that includes nothing for state employee raises or cost-of-living increases for state retirees.

The federal stimulus package will help, but it won’t come close to filling the hole. And Senate Budget Chair Linda Garrou says the Senate is putting a plan together to balance the budget without the federal money.

The current state budget is $21.3 billion, so the shortfall is almost 15 percent. There’s no way that lawmakers can balance the budget with cuts alone without devastating education, human services, and other vital state programs, no matter how much the anti-government folks claim otherwise.

Enough with the absurd talk about no revenue. Let’s start talking about solutions that include a progressive revenue package.

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