Oct. 9, 2003 – The ongoing odyssey of the Fiscal Year 2004 budget was interrupted once again on Thursday by dint of a three-sentence letter from Senate President David Jones asking that the Senate Finance Committee delay its scheduled meeting next week to mark up the appropriations legislation.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, the Finance Committee chair, had scheduled the markup session for Tuesday, until he received Jones's message.
"In order to ensure the most effective and efficient budgetary process, I request the postponement of your scheduled meeting for Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2003," Jones wrote. "This will enable further input from stakeholders who will be most affected by the FY2004 budget. Thank you in advance for your cooperation."
Donastorg complied with Jones's request. "Although I stand ready to proceed, I do understand and appreciate your concerns," he told the Senate president.
There was no indication of when the markup session would be rescheduled.
Donastorg said he is aware that the legislative legal counsel's office "has been inundated with requests from members of this body for budget-related amendments, and that our attorneys require additional time to research and draft this legislation."
It has become traditional for the Legislature to enact a massive so-called Omnibus Bill addressing all manner of issues along with the actual fiscal year budget appropriation measures.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull submitted his proposed FY 2004 budget to the Senate on Aug. 29, three months after the May 31 legal deadline. In the interim, the Finance Committee had devoted nearly six weeks of hearings to taking testimony from the heads of executive branch departments and agencies concerning their budget wants and needs. The new fiscal year began on Oct. 1 with no new budget in place.
At the Finance Committee's budget overview session on Sept. 23, senators and administration financial officials tangled once again over new taxes and other proposals in the governor's budget. (See "Fiscal overview for 2004 covers familiar terrain".)
To date, no formal budget initiatives have come from the majority caucus. The minority has submitted extensive lists of proposed cost-saving and revenue-generating measures to the governor, some of which were implemented earlier this year, when the process began.
Neither the majority nor the minority has expressed enthusiasm for Turnbull's proposed tax increases or for his proposed cutback to a 36-hour work week, which are among the revenue-generating and cost-saving measure his budget includes. However, no vote has been taken on these items.
Turnbull has made it clear that the ball is now in the Legislature's court. Nathan Simmonds, director of the administration's Office of Fiscal and Economic Recovery Implementation, told the senators at the Sept. 29 meeting: "If you don't agree with the governor's proposals, submit some of your own." The minority did just that, while the majority has yet to do so, although individual senators have expressed impatience at the process.
Donastorg told Jones: "I truly hope that we can bring the budget process to a successful and productive conclusion before the end of this month." He had said after the Sept. 29 meeting that he expected to have the budget on the Senate floor by the first or second week of October.
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