We are now in the third week of the session and hearing bills both in committee and on the floor. The House and the Senate both have a similar, but not an identical process for a bill to get to the floor for a vote. We also have been working on appropriation bills that are shell bills. That means they have no concrete numbers in the bills until later in the process.
The House has 1,195 bills that have been filed along with 45 joint resolutions and 11 concurrent resolutions. The Senate has 1,091 bills and 30 joint resolutions. The bills in the House will continue along the committee process until the end of the fifth week of session. The Senate committee process must be completed by the end of the third week of session.
At the end of the sixth week of session all bills must be passed out of the chamber in which they originate or they lie dormant for the rest of this year's session. At that time the House bills that have passed on the floor will go to the Senate. The Senate bills that have survived the process will go to the House. Once there the bills will begin the process again of going through the committee and getting to the floor for a vote.
That process will take another six weeks and at that time the Legislature begins the budgeting process. During the month of May also those bills that passed the House and the Senate, but with different amendments will go through the Conference Committee process. This process allows both authors to agree on identical language and then get a vote in each chamber on the bill.
The final certification for revenue for the fiscal year also takes place this month. Earlier estimates seemed to be too optimistic, and the revenue forecast will result in about $285 million less to spend this fiscal year. That represents only a very small budget increase this year. The anticipated half a billion dollars of new money will not be there. Even with a standstill budget this year, the spending in state government has averaged an 8% growth during the last five years. That is still a healthy amount of growth.
Some problems continue to exist with several budget initiatives passed my first session in the House. The tobacco tax bill continues to fall 20-30 million dollars short of the predicted revenue. Gaming and lottery income also lags well behind projections.
There are those that point to the reduction in state income tax as a culprit to the slow down in growth revenue. It should be remembered that two years ago the largest cut in state income tax at that time was passed and the economy responded with a billion dollar surplus.
The more likely culprit for the economic slow down is the sluggish returns on gross production revenues from oil and gas income. As the price of oil declined so did the income from gross production. This is the revenue source that has driven both the economic recovery and the huge surplus last year.
At the end of last year the House refused to go along with the Senate and spend every bit of the surplus. Instead, we chose to tuck away 70 million in case it was needed this year. It seems that this fiscal conservative attitude has served the state in good stead since it is now needed to help supplement some agencies budget to finish the year. This continues to be the time to demand financial responsibility and fiscal accountability.