House files substitute budget bills amid unprecedented budget crisis

Thursday, March 4, 2010 | 8:54 p.m. CST; updated 9:01 p.m. CST, Thursday, March 4, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — As lawmakers prepared to flee the Capitol on Friday for a week-long spring break, they left many questions about education funding in Missouri unanswered.

New budget bills were filed Thursday by House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, after Gov. Jay Nixon held a week of private meetings between Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate to discuss the state's declining revenue situation. 

Icet's bills reduce the amount of general revenue in Nixon's budget by $50 million.

"We have a plan and we'll meet the governor halfway," said House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin. "Everything is on the table as far as I'm concerned."

That plan includes $300 million in federal stabilization funds that some  legislators had previously said they doubted would come to Missouri. Part of this money will be used to help fully fund the K-12 Foundation Formula.

"The governor still believes the $300 million may occur," Icet said.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the governor, said it could still be possible for the state to receive the federal funds.

Nixon's budget recommendations, released in January, had provided for an $18 million increase to the Foundation Formula from last year's appropriations, $87 million short of the amount required to fully fund the program. 

Icet's bills would allocate the additional money needed to fully fund the program. 

However, under the substitute bills, Icet said he wasn't sure if Nixon's in-state tuition freeze agreement with higher education institutions could be kept.

Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, said at this time the in-state tuition freeze is viable under Icet's current bills, but the decision could not be finalized until after hearings are held on Icet's substitute bills. 

In a Senate press conference Thursday, President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said he had doubts the agreement could be kept.

In the private meetings held earlier this week, Icet said although Nixon suggested ideas to balance the budget, such as plans to consolidate state departments and reduce that number of cars in the state fleet, he did not have a definite solution for the deficit crisis.

But Icet said time is running out.

"We don't have a lot of time remaining to take the budget and pass it through committee and the floor," Icet said. "Our calendar is getting really tight and we're starting to feel the pressure."

Because of the rush to get the budget's substitute bills passed, the process to finish them will be quicker than normal. Icet said the bills he filed would be a starting point for changes that could occur if the state revises its revenue estimate for fiscal year 2011.

In January, Nixon's proposed budget had predicted general revenue increase by 3.6 percent for fiscal year 2011. On Monday, however, Nixon said this number might have to be revised due to a continued decline in state revenue collections.

Cardetti said Nixon began working with members of the General Assembly on the new revenue estimate Thursday.

Icet said he has a self-imposed deadline to get the budget bills through the House and to the Senate by March 24.

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