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Sunday, March 22, 2009

SB 91: Nice Band-Aid; Long-Term Solutions Await

So what would you call legislation that is designed to help local governments deal with budget shortfalls caused by economic troubles but...
  1. comes with strings attached,
  2. can be characterized even by supporters as "robbing Peter to pay Paul," and
  3. runs out in three years, possibly leaving governments that take advantage of the plan facing the same budget challenges as before.
I'd call it another opportunity to put Senator Russell Olson's picture on the front page of the Madison Daily Leader. Olson's Senate Bill 91, which allows school districts to use capital outlay funds for fuel, energy, utilities, mileage reimbursement, and even insurance, received Governor Rounds's signature Wednesday.

Now I've said I like the flexibility this bill gives local school districts. I simply note with amusement that many of the criticisms my Republican friends have leveled against the federal stimulus package and other Obama Administration proposals apply to SB 91. It comes with strings attached. Chester Superintendent and SB 91 supporter Mark Greguson makes the Peter and Paul reference in Friday's print MDL. The sunseting of this law—schools get to move this money around for just three years—seems open to the same "What do we do when this plan runs out?" criticism that Governor Rounds used against the unemployment money in the stimulus package. Olson himself asks the same question of the "blessing and curse" stimulus money in his last Legislative Update: "Spending must be kept in check so we, the legislature, can figure out a way to balance the budget when the federal money is gone in two years."

If Olson and his fellow Republicans fret over the temporary budget solution provided by President Obama, why would they pass a temporary budget solution for the schools? If busting the budget silos is a good idea for three years (Olson originally wanted five), why isn't it a good idea as a permanent solution? We've amended the capital outlay statute to allow textbook and software purchases. If capital outlay can cover the acquisition of property and equipment, it can cover the energy required to operate that property and equipment.

If schools need help, we should help, not with band-aids but lasting reforms. But long-term solutions would require long-term vision and commitment to education. And that's something the 2009 Session, like so many past Republican legislatures, was mighty short on.

1 comment:

  1. I would call it working with what you've got. Opt-outs don't work, modernizing the tax system is a no go. It's easier to tweak a part of the system not everyone understands as well to buy a little more time.


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