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|Legislature working on details of $29 billion budget|
With just hours left in the regular session of the state Legislature, lawmakers are scrambling to put the finishing touches on the state's $29 billion budget.
The 2009 regular session will close Thursday evening and members of the joint budget committee were locked away Tuesday morning, hammering out the details of how much to cut from higher education and healthcare.
The budget could not come any later, as the state's fiscal year comes to an end on June 30, just five days after the close of the session.
That leaves state agencies precious little time to figure out how much money they have to spend and where to spend it, according to state Sen. Neil Riser.
That's one reason Riser proposed moving the regular session earlier in the calendar year.
"I tried to move the session earlier, last year," said Riser, R-Columbia. "In the handling of the fiscal year, five days to decide what to with the new budget just isn't enough time."
Last year, Riser proposed moving the session as early as January, but that measure failed to gain support.
However, Riser has succeeded so far in getting lawmakers to consider moving the session back two weeks earlier.
The proposed calendar change is awaiting a final vote in the state House of Representatives, where it will require a two-thirds majority to pass.
Riser understood two weeks was not a great deal of time, but said it could make a difference.
"It doesn't give us much, but two weeks is two weeks," Riser said. "Fourteen days is a lot if you're trying to make a major decision."
Even if Riser's bill passes the House and becomes law, that would not help agencies facing significant cuts in this calendar year.
Universities, hospitals and a host of other state agencies will go into overdrive Friday, when the budget is finalized.
They'll have just five days before the start of the new fiscal year -- and the new budget.
Riser said agencies facing budget cuts will be boxed into a corner on critical spending decisions.
"They'll have to make these decisions fast," Riser said. "If they don't, then their recurring expenses will be missing the funds to pay for them."
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