Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The wait just got longer

The governor can check off a few items from his to-do list, but many more remain as the Senate adjourned until Tuesday, April 25. That’s more than two weeks after the original deadline to pass next year's budget.

First, there was a $10-million pilot program to reduce classroom sizes in some schools throughout the state. It passed both chambers.

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed another $10-million plan, one to help about 7,000 uninsured veterans get health insurance and access to medical clinics. The program would start in September, if passed by the House and signed by the governor. It has yet to be called for debate in the House.

The governor's plan to help address a nursing shortage also passed the Senate with few nays. Nurse educators would receive $5,000 to help repay their student loans. The $1.3-million plan also would include more than a dozen nursing school fellowships and a nursing center that would focus on recruitment efforts. It's still waiting for debate in the House, too.

Tuesday, a House committee did approve a scaled-down version of the school construction plan without Republican votes. It resembles the Senate's doomed attempt last week. The House proposal would authorize $500 million in bonds rather than $1 billion. The new plan would still release $150 million to 23 school districts that have been put on hold since 2002, as well as start chipping away at the long list of districts that have applied for money since then. Again, there is no dedicated revenue source other than taking $40 million from the state's main checkbook each year. Without Republican support, the revised bill could just be a way for Democrats to add a politically palatable vote to their records during election season.

The real hold up, though, is between the governor and the Democratic caucuses within the two chambers. They have been in budget negotiations this afternoon. Yet, an agreement that puts aside partisan politics and settles the rest of the budget is precarious, given the latest House and Senate schedules.

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