Session Hits the Half Way Point

With the 2008 legislative session reaching the halfway point, many lobbyists and groups at the Capitol are already calling these past three months the toughest session in memory. One Capitol insider said, “In all my years of watching the Legislature, I’ve never seen so many bills shot down in flames this early in the session.”

OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger agreed.

“OPEA has always prided itself on its effort to get legislation introduced and then following the bills through the legislative process,” he commented. “This year we are working harder than ever but, admittedly, with mixed success.”

Barger explained that a big part of the problem is a lack of revenue and the fact that this is an election year.

“There is $114 million less to spend this year than last, which makes the situation difficult, at best,” he said. “When you consider that it’s an election year, with no legislators wanting to vote on anything that might be used against them, you have a very difficult problem to solve.”

More than 3,000 bills were introduced by the Senate and House combined, but just weeks into the session, only around 600 were considered to still be alive.

OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley insists that all is not lost.

“While some of OPEA’s bills did not make it out of the process, we will still be trying to find a place in other bills to put our language and issues,” he said.

Barger also holds out hope for a pay raise for state employees.

“The fact that the appropriations process has slowed down is somewhat of a good sign,” he commented. “We are hearing that revenue collections were up in February and March, which impacts the 1017 Fund and makes the $47million hole in Education funding smaller each month. That is why the Legislature failed to fund Education by April 1. We think legislative leaders are waiting for additional revenues to come in during April to close the gap. This is good news for state employees’ chances for a pay raise. Otherwise, any additional revenue that could be used for a pay raise would certainly be diverted to Education to fill in the hole.”

Barger also pointed to agency funding.

“There is a lot of talk at the Capitol about agency budgets,” he said. “State employees should look to the General Appropriations bill for a clue about the viability of a pay raise this year. If agencies take cuts, a pay raise is probably out of the question. If the agencies receive a stand-still budget, then we have a chance.”

Zearley also is holding out hope.

“We are working diligently to continue to pressure the Legislature for a pay raise,” he commented. “We are meeting with legislative leaders to reinforce our message and to offer areas where we believe money exists for state employees.”

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