Stateline Story

Lawmakers Set to Return for 'Brutal' Sessions

Lawmakers in 13 states return this week for legislative sessions that will be dominated by austere budgets and major elections in November.

Regular 2010 sessions will get under way in Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures .

"It's going to be the toughest year yet," Raymond Sheppach, the head of the National Governors Association, told The Associated Press . The wire service reported that the states' ongoing cash crunch is likely to mean deep spending cuts or higher taxes and "could also mean new tolls to fund road projects, more prisoners being released early to trim corrections budgets, and the end of welfare programs that don't bring matching federal dollars."

In Nebraska, "the word around here is that if your bill has a fiscal note" — costs money or results in a loss of tax revenue — "it's not going anywhere," one state senator told the Lincoln Journal-Star . "We're not going to spend a dime. There's no new money," another senator said.

Hanging over this year's legislative sessions are the November elections, in which voters in 37 states will choose governors and 46 states will choose legislators. In many states, election-year politics could complicate negotiations over how to balance budgets.

It's already happening in Illinois, where Comptroller Dan Hynes (D) — who is running for governor against incumbent Pat Quinn (D) — recently refused Quinn's request to borrow $500 million to pay off some of the state's bills, saying he had concerns about the way the state's finances were being managed.

Hynes' refusal prompted an angry reaction from the governor, "who noted that the comptroller approved a larger short-term loan in 2008 under similar circumstances," The Wall Street Journal reported . "This year he refused to do it because he's running against me for governor," Quinn told the Journal .