Today, we gaveled in at noon for the first day of the 2009 legislative session. It was a significant event (in our world at least) because the first day occurred at the newly renovated Old Capitol Building. The Old Capitol was the seat of state government from 1839 to 1903. Each house of the legislature held its session in its respective chamber from 1839.
As I sat there with Rep. Tad Campbell (R-Meridian), we noticed stark differences in the mood of House members. Some were in quite the festive spirit, taking pictures and cajoling with members they hadn't seen in several months. There's nothing particularly wrong with this scene- while starting the first session, we were also celebrating the reopening of one of the more historic and beautiful buildings in the whole state. It's something we should recognize.
However, there was another mood in the old House chambers, of which Tad and I were part of, that was definitely of a more somber mindset- realizing that we're facing some daunting challenges during the 2009 session.
The reality is quite clear that our state budget has come in well below projections. The latest from the Governor is that we may come in $170-$230 million below projection. But for the people and businesses we represent, it's worse. Indeed, hard decisions will have to be made during this session.
But I believe we'll pull through if we keep a few things in mind. First of all, we have to remember our priorities and remember the things we campaigned on. Secondly, we have to keep an even keel and make realistic, common sense decisions. Finally, we have to realize that playing this "my way or the highway" game won't cut it this time. We don't have the time or money to get into foxholes on issues and refuse to talk to the other side. We don't need three or four special sessions. We have 90 days to work out the budget, cigarette tax, education and Medicaid. Let's get to work and get it done- on time.