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Grading The Senate’s Friday Folder

Most nights my ten-year-old son tells me about his day at school. I’ll start with my usual “Did you learn anything today?” to which he always responds “no” – a game that we have played for years. Unless I prod him for more academic detail, he invariably tells me about his social day.

I don’t remember my 4th grade classmates being as involved in each other’s lives as his seem to be. I went to a rural elementary school back in the 1970’s and there just wasn’t that much to talk about. To hear him describe the constantly shifting friendships, student paranoia over the teacher’s “behavior stick” and impenetrable playground rules that exceed my understanding, you would think his daily classroom experience lies somewhere between Gilligan’s Island and Lord of the Flies.

If we substitute “Governor” for “teacher” his classroom sounds a lot like our state Senate with one exception. Each Friday, my son brings home his Friday folder containing his graded papers and comments from his teacher – hard evidence of ongoing work.

Instead of Friday folders, we receive constituent questions about the status of bills pending in the Senate that the House has already passed. Questions that we put off with the punch-line answer of “still waiting on the Senate.”

Last week, after days of filibuster, we finally received the Senate’s Friday folder. It contained our road-funding bill (H3579) freshly amended and rescued from the Senate’s special order limbo where it had languished since April 16, 2015.

The original House bill sent to the Senate contained 40 pages (14,674 words) of structural and funding reforms to the Department of Transportation. The reforms included recommendations from the House Republican Caucus and from a bi-partisan study committee formed by Speaker Jay Lucas in 2014.

The bill went through the committee process and was debated on the House floor. It passed 87 to 20 and was opposed by some conservatives, including myself, because we wanted a greater income tax cut.

After a waiting a year, the Senate returned a 9 page (2,842 words) amended bill lacking any real attempt to reform the DOT. It grants the Governor authority to appoint the DOT commissioners and it requires that the General Assembly transfer $400 million from the General Fund to the Highway Fund each year.

The bill specifically states that the $400 million appropriation “ . . . must be contained in the Ways and Means Committee report on the general appropriations bill . . . “ Never mind that in one brief amended bill, the Senate has more than likely violated the state constitution twice by binding a future legislative Session and by interfering with the constitutional power granted to the House to originate the budget each year.

Spending this year’s tax surplus on our roads is not a new idea. We have done that for the past several years as we examined the best reform structure for DOT. Spending a tax surplus is very different from using recurring revenue from the General Fund to prop up the DOT as proposed by the Senate in their amended bill.

I support spending a large amount of this year’s tax surplus on our roads. I just don’t pretend that the Senate bill is anything more than an election year stunt or join the Governor in giving them a passing grade.