Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL NEWS ROUNDUP | Utah audit questions coronavirus spending … Colorado officials worried about declining school enrollment … Iowa expects a $306 million budget surplus.
President Trump signed a continuing resolution Thursday that will avoid a government shutdown through December and provide a one-year extension of federal transportation funding. The extension of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act adds $13.6 billion to the Highway Trust Fund. The approval allows the fund to maintain its current funding levels through fiscal 2021—$47.1 billion for highway programs and $12.3 billion for transit programs. The FAST Act, a five-year comprehensive spending bill that provided $305 billion for transportation infrastructure development and maintenance, was set to expire Wednesday. The House of Representatives voted on the bill last week and the Senate approved it Wednesday. The Highway Trust Fund is the primary source of funding for many of the programs paid for through the FAST Act. But gas tax revenue that in the past filled the trust fund has been on the decline and the fund is now insufficient to cover the costs. Lawmakers said the extension would give them time to work on a long-term solution to address transportation infrastructure needs across the country. “A full one-year extension of highway funding provides states and communities the certainty required to plan for critical road and bridge projects,” said Sen. John Barrasso, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. [Heavy Duty Trucking, Roads and Bridges, Roll Call]
UTAH AUDIT | At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Utah leaders spent millions of dollars in no-bid contracts and provided little documentation to back up the spending, the Office of the State Auditor said in a review of the state’s response efforts. As a result of being inadequately prepared for this type of pandemic, the state spent nearly double on Covid-19 tests and was unable to provide any documentation to prove who approved spending $800,000 on the controversial malaria drug hydroxychloroquine—the purchase was later canceled and the state received a refund. “From our high-level review, we conclude that the State did not adequately anticipate or prepare for this type of statewide, national, and global pandemic,” the auditor’s report said. [Salt Lake Tribune]
SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT DIES | A 57-year-old Arkansas school superintendent died this week from the illness caused by the coronavirus. Atkins School District Superintendent Jody Jenkins died after testing positive for the virus on Sept. 13 and being hospitalized. Jenkins had earlier told news outlets he didn’t know how he contracted the virus, and no one else from the 1,000-person school district who had been in contact with him had tested positive. In-person classes resumed in Arkansas last month, although schools can offer virtual options to students as well. [Associated Press, Courier News]
SCHOOL ENROLLMENT | Colorado officials are pleading with parents to enroll their children in school this year, fearing children who are homeschooled during the coronavirus pandemic without the proper curriculum will fall behind their peers. “Your kid will return to school someday,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. “You don’t want them to be behind.” School districts have seen a drop in student enrollment and officials are worried that will translate into less per-pupil money being allotted in the future. Oct. 1 is the day schools in the state tally enrollment and that data is used to allocate state funding. At Aurora Public Schools, outside of Denver, Superintendent Rico Munn said enrollment is down and he expects 800 fewer students this year to translate to a $7 to $10 million drop in funding. "Student need is increasing during this pandemic at the same time that our resources are decreasing," Munn said. [Colorado Sun, KUSA-TV]
IOWA REVENUES UP | Iowa expects a $306 million budget surplus this year, aided in part by federal stimulus dollars. Gov. Kim Reynolds credited the state’s emphasis on “fiscal responsibility.” “The actions we have taken this year will help Iowa emerge from this unprecedented pandemic stronger than ever before,” she said. The state’s budget surplus for 2019 was $289 million. State lawmakers cut spending this year, but Democratic lawmakers were skeptical of the Republican governor’s spending plan. “To portray a generous ending balance does not tell us how the governor used federal dollars to plug budget gaps or what programs may have been cut by her office to create savings,” said state Rep. Chris Hall. [The Gazette, KCRG-TV]
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.