House Democrats’ latest proposal shaves well over half a billion dollars off its previous proposal for school spending.
But a significant chunk of that reduction, $140 million, would be removed through a bit of fiscal sleight of hand. It’s intended to avoid hurting school districts — and might even help them.
The savings would come from making a payment to school districts on July 1 instead of at the end of June, pushing it into the next two-year budget cycle for the Legislature but keeping it in the same budget cycle for school districts.
It’s reminiscent of a proposal last year that Republicans roundly rejected as a gimmick — since it essentially borrowed from the next budget and moved the problem to the future. Democratic Treasurer Jim McIntire joined in the criticism of that plan.
This move is less than half as large as that one, and it’s paired with a larger change in the schedule of paying school districts. They would be paid every other month instead of once a month, and at the beginning of the month instead of the end.
Still, House GOP budget lead Gary Alexander said in committee: ”This is a gimmick. It was brought out before.” He noted Democrats have criticized the Senate for gimmickry in the form of unspecified cuts.
Democratic budget chairman Ross Hunter said he struggled in forming the proposal, wanting to do something that drives more money to school districts in future budgets to comply with a court ruling, but objecting to the Senate’s strategy of dedicated some future taxes to schools. “If the Senate doesn’t want to do it , we’ll take it out,” he said.
School districts were still taking a look at it Wednesday, but it appears it might actually help them to be paid earlier in the month, said Marie Sullivan, a lobbyist for school boards.
Twenty percent of school payments already are made after the start of July; this would increase that amount to 22 percent.
McIntire said he’s not thrilled with the idea but he doesn’t have major objections, especially since it’s a permanent change in policy that won’t have to be fixed in the next budget.
“It’s an attempt to restructure along the lines of the actual dollar needs (of districts), and there’s some value to that,” he said. “It’s certainly not as egregious as what they were proposing last year. So if it gets them out of town, good. Budgets are rarely pretty things.”