Senate Democratic leaders are pitching a state budget balanced on paper. In reality, not so much.
The Senate version of the budget uses gimmicks to put off paying some big bills until after the end of the two-year budget cycle, essentially ensuring the next budget will start in the hole.
The House, also controlled by Democrats, is making similar moves.
Lawmakers said they would not resort to gimmicks to plug the $2 billion gap between the projected revenue and anticipated spending. Over the past few months the demand for government services has decreased and the revenue projection has gotten a tad brighter. As a result, lawmakers were recently looking at a gap of under $1 billion.
Lawmakers, however, have backed off making the tough decisions on what to cut. Instead, they are looking to put off between $300 and $400 million in education payments by adding a 25th month to the two-year budget cycle in the hope tax collections will soar by July 2013.
That is a long shot. Lawmakers have to deal with the new reality facing the state and nation. While the economy is better, it will not be growing at double-digit rates year after year.
Growth will be slower and state government must budget accordingly.
We understand lawmakers reluctance to trim more spending. The last few years have seen steady reductions in spending, mostly to higher education. And these are real cuts, as in fewer dollars, as opposed to the somewhat disingenuous cuts to a spending wish list government generally engages in.
The cuts to higher education, as well as holding funding for basic education essentially steady, have resulted in colleges being forced to raise tuition and public schools not being able to keep up with rising costs.
Given that education is, or at least should be, the top priority for state government, this trend is unacceptable.
But the answer isn't to delay dealing with the problem. Lawmakers must face the reality -- sooner rather than later -- that tax revenue will not be enough to sustain the current level of spending.
The long-term solution for education is to establish an adequate, dedicated funding source for higher education and basic education.
In the short term, cuts to state programs have to be made to stabilize the budget so it is sustainable. The tough decisions should not be delayed by using budget gimmicks.