Missouri state departments ask for status quo on budgets

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:44 a.m. CDT, Monday, April 26, 2010

*Gary Kremer clarified his previous statement about how much of a budget decrease the society could handle.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly identified how much the society could gain from laying off an employee.
*A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Sen. Tim Green's town of residence.

JEFFERSON CITY — Facing revenue collections that are expected to decrease close to $1 billion compared to fiscal year 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee met Monday to hear testimony on funding for state departments.

Gary Kremer, director of the State Historical Society of Missouri, said that if his program is considered for cuts, he might suggest just to close the society.

*He said later that he was trying to explain that the society couldn't take another significant hit, such as a 70 percent decrease.*

The historical society had its budget cut by 25 percent in October as part of Gov. Jay Nixon's withholdings. An agreement for society staff to take a 20 percent pay cut only makes up for half of the money lost from the withholding.

Even if the society laid off employees, Kremer said, it would still not be able to cut enough from its budget because of the benefits and severance packages required for MU employees.

*He said later that in one instance, laying off an employee who earns $35,000 would have saved the society only about $9,000.*

Others who testified acknowledged the state's dire financial situation, but they also asked the committee to keep funding at current levels.

"Nobody wants to see their program cut, but the state needs money to operate," said state Sen. Tim Green, D-*Spanish Lake. Green asked many of those providing testimony to suggest other areas where funding could be cut.

"Everyone is coming up asking us please don't cut," Green said. "Well, if we don't cut you, where can we cut?"

Earlier in the day, Dan Haug, director of the Senate Appropriations staff, said that revenue collection is down close to 11 percent for the fiscal year that began July 1 compared to fiscal 2009. While collections saw its first increase in November, Haug said, "December has not been kind."

Following Haug's statement, the hearing began with witnesses testifying on behalf of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Testimony centered on funding for vocational services, high school drop-out programs, the Missouri Research & Education Network or MOREnet — which provides Internet services for education — and the Parents as Teachers program.

"Additional cuts would have a devastating impact," said Jane Callahan, public policy director for the Parents as Teachers National Center in St. Louis. State funding to Parents as Teachers was cut by 10 percent during the past year.

Callahan's testimony was echoed by Mary Lou Bussabarger, who testified on behalf of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health.

"The state will lose tens of millions of (federal grant) dollars because we are not going to have enough grant writers," Bussabarger said, describing the effects of further cuts on the Institute.

The day ended with a request from the Office of Administration for the state to update a 15-year-old disparity study aimed at identifying the needs of minority- and female-owned businesses.

Updating the disparity study would cost the state about $600,000, said Denise Farris, a Kansas City attorney testifying at the Administration Office's request.

Keith Savage, founder of Logistical Resource Solutions in St. Louis, argued that the state is required by law to update the study.

"The disparity study will be paid for one way or another," Savage said, referring to legal action that could be taken if Missouri does not update the study.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, questioned why businesses would want to deal with the state given its current financial situation.

"If I was a small business owner, this wouldn't be the time I would want to do business with the state," Lembke said. "We're looking at a billion dollar budget shortfall this year, and it will be worse next year. I would want to do business with someone other than the state."

The committee will continue hearing testimony Tuesday and is set to begin work on the budget after Nixon gives his State of the State speech in January.

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