Budget, education, Medicaid, roads and bridges, on agenda for session

By TOM MILES,

The 2018 Legislative Session is already here. We will take up hundreds of issues, and thousands of bills will be filed concerning various issues. However, the four major issues that we again will address this year likely will be budget shortfalls, education, the Medicaid technical amendment, and help for infrastructure problems for our roads and bridges.  All of these issues will affect Scott Countians in some way.

 Over the last few sessions, the budget has been cut dramatically because of reduced revenue coming into the state, or, as some argue, because of big money giveaways to lobbyists. We have 10,000 fewer state employees now than we did eight years ago. When revenues are off, services are cut, and many times state employees are laid off or fired. In addition to hard-working public servants losing their jobs, these layoffs and firings have recently caused a concern for our state retirees. Reduced contributions undermine the retirement system, and some are concerned it might even affect their 13th check. We will get a full update from the State Economist in the next week or so during our yearly briefing which should provide a more accurate picture of the state’s financial situation.

 Education is always hot topic at the Capitol. There will be major discussions about changing the MAEP formula and, hopefully, some discussion about doing away with all of the State Standardized tests. If our public schools aren’t getting the funding they need, it causes a tax shift to the local level, burdening our local taxpayers while our schools continue to suffer without adequate resources they need to survive. Education will be an issue to pay attention to this year as the session develops.

We will be dealing with the Medicaid Technical bill this year, which could have a big effect on our local hospitals and doctors. Over the last few years, Medicaid functions have been privatized to different companies, dramatically increasing costs for the agency. We will be looking at this program as a whole to see what we can do to improve healthcare services through the program and still provide savings to the taxpayers.

On the matter of roads and bridges, all we have to do is ride down any of our roads to look at the crumbling infrastructure underneath our tires. We are going to have to look at different ways to help fund our roads and bridges because this problem isn’t going away. Without action, the problems will only get worse.

Be looking for my weekly column dealing with these issues and other actions taking place at your State Capitol.