/Legislative leaders say teacher pay hike, tax cut remain on table despite COVID-19 uncertainties

Legislative leaders say teacher pay hike, tax cut remain on table despite COVID-19 uncertainties

The budget proposal House Speaker Philip Gunn (Lt. Gov.) did not reflect the tax cut or the teacher raise. Monday’s budget proposal was approved by Delbert Hosemann, and the 12 other members of the Legislative Budget Committee. This recommendation is 3.1% or $197.4million less than what the legislators approved for the current fiscal year. Hosemann stated that the proposal by the legislative leaders is only an initial step. If revenue continues to rise despite the pandemic in the first quarter, Hosemann suggested that a teacher raise could be included in the final budget. This budget is expected to be approved late March. Hosemann, who preside over the Senate, said that he would propose a teacher raise. Hosemann stated that he would present the same plan as the Senate passed in 2020. The plan, which cost about $1,000 per annum and was worth $76 million, was defeated in the House’s last session due to concerns about how the coronavirus might impact the economy and state tax collections. However, tax collections have been strong in recent months. Gunn suggested that part of this strength could be due to the huge stimulus package that was provided by the federal government last summer to fight the pandemic. Washington is currently debating whether additional stimulus funds should be provided. Both Hosemann, Gov. Both Hosemann and Gov. promised significant teacher raises in their 2019 campaigns. Reeves’ budget proposal, released last month, did not include a teacher raise as one of his priorities. Reeves spokeswoman said that the governor believes that a teacher raise can still be achieved during the session 2021. Reeves made it a priority to eliminate the state’s income taxes over a long period of time. Gunn, who has long supported the elimination of the income tax, stated that Monday’s session will examine this issue. He stated that he has been working to create a solider and more equitable tax system. Some question the wisdom in reducing taxes when the state still has multiple needs for education, health care and public safety. Others also note that the state will continue to rely on the 7% sales tax it imposes on food and other retail products if the income tax is eliminated. Many claim this tax unfairly burdens the poor. Michael Leachman, vice-president of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, stated that without an income tax, policymakers in the state would have two options. One, they could cut funding for schools and other services, or increase other revenue. The state’s income tax generates about one-third of its general fund revenue, or $1.9 billion each year. Reeves claims it can be phased away without increasing other taxes or making large cuts to the state’s services. Hosemann said that “everything is on the table” when asked about a possible tax reduction. Like the Reeves budget, Monday’s budget recommendation leaves local school districts with $250 million less in full funding. The budget does not include the requested increase in COVID-19-related expenses for the state Department of Health, such as money that might be required to distribute a vaccine. The budget committee’s recommendation makes small cuts to most agencies. The recommendation removes 4,119 vacant posts in the state government. Reserve funds are left at $877 million. Gunn stated that the budget was solid. Gunn stated, “It’s a solid budget…I believe it provides a good starting place.” The new budget year starts July 1.