The budget torch has officially been passed.
After months of number crunching and trimming state programs, the state Comptroller’s office and Legislative Budget Board handed off the preliminary revenue estimates and draft budget bill this morning to the Senate Finance Committee in what was the first of a slew of hearings scheduled to tackle this session’s budget.
Scheduled to meet every Monday through Thursday for the next month, the committee will begin their arduous task by first addressing health and human services and education, which together make up more than half of the state’s biennial budget. They face the most drastic reductions. Committee chair Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, told members and the packed conference room that now’s the time to get serious.
“We’re going to put the hard stuff up front so we can get a clear picture of what we have to work on going forward,” he said.
Well, hard might be an understatement. As senators sat with piles of documents in front of them and listened with wide eyes (at one point Sen. Ogden had both hands on either side of his face), Chief Revenue Estimator for the Comptroller John Heleman and Legislative Budget Board Director John O’Brien reiterated the grim shortfall numbers and inevitable cuts that await major state agencies.
“This has been a difficult year” for the LBB staff, O’Brien told the senators as he wrapped up his testimony. “But now the role shifts – it’s your turn.”
The committee recessed around lunchtime and will begin laying out health and human services this afternoon.