By Rep. Ted Edmonds
House leadership revealed its plan to balance the state’s budget last week, and I feel like a lot of legislators do. I’m not comfortable with everything that it’s in the budget bill, but it could be a whole lot worse. The same goes for House Bill 530, which is the revenue bill that helps us to balance the budget. We haven’t yet voted on the budget, but we did pass HB 530, so I’d like to talk about it this week.
The good news is that there are no tax increases in the bill, and that was a must. Our economy is too fragile right now to afford any tax increases in any segment of the economy, so our budget committee had to get creative. The final result is a bill that slightly tweaks the dates for collecting taxes and temporarily delays some tax breaks. The end result is that we’ll have enough money to get us through the next two years without making any real, lasting changes to our economy.
The even better news is that, if all goes as our economists are forecasting, we might even have a small surplus to put into our rainy-day fund, which has dwindled to nothing the last few years as hard times have forced us to spend our savings for our needs. Of course, the Senate could very well make some changes to such an important bill, and they usually do, so we’ll wait and see what the final product will be.
Another piece of legislation I’m especially proud of is House Resolution 136. HR 136 urges the Public Service Commission to disallow any utility rate increases that outpace inflation. Here at home, we’ve seen some companies go for rate increases of 35 percent or more. That’s bad enough when times are good, but when so many people are hurting already, they can’t afford to pay an electric bill that goes up that much. People living on Social Security can’t afford such a massive increase either, so we’re pushing the PSC, which has to sign off on any rate increase, to put a stop to this.
Finally this week, we took a step to reduce the dropout rate in our schools. Right now, students can drop out at age 16 — before many of them really know what they want to do with their lives. Entering the workforce and making money may look good at the time, but it’s not a path toward future success. HB 301 would raise the dropout rate by the year 2014 to age 18, by which point they’re probably so close to graduation many more students will stick it out and earn their diplomas. It’s not that simple, though. The bill also provides for programs to make students want to stay in school and to achieve so they have more opportunities when they graduate.
As I write this, there are only three weeks left to this legislative session. Call our legislative message line at 1-800-372-7181, or call my office at 502-564-8100, ext. 818 to let me know how you feel about any of the bills waiting to be voted on.