House leaders proclaim budget balanced with cut to K-12 education

Wednesday, March 24, 2010 | 10:54 p.m. CDT; updated 11:39 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 24, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — The House gave first-round approval to a budget for the next fiscal year which Republican leaders said was balanced after a cut to K-12 education.

The House version of the budget is more than $200 million below the budget recommendation submitted by Gov. Jay Nixon in January.

It would cut funding to the K-12 Foundation Formula by $18 million, freezing funds at this year's level. It would also cut nearly $100 million from social services and cut more than $10 million from the agriculture department.

House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said the cuts will balance the budget.

"I've always been of the opinion that we needed to cut $200 million," he said.

Nixon, however, said recently that next year's budget should be cut by at least half a billion dollars, a figure which includes $300 million in federal stabilization funds that have not been given final approval by Congress.

He suggested that if these federal funds are approved, they could be put aside for the 2012 budget, when nearly $1 billion in federal stabilization funds expire.

The House budget includes these funds in a separate Federal Budget Stabilization Extension Fund that is slated to fund health care for prisoners and Medicaid funds for doctors and nurses.

House Republicans had previously criticized Nixon for including this money in his budget, but Icet said he included them because he is more confident they will materialize.

House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, criticized Republicans for including these funds because of their initial reaction to Nixon's budget recommendation.

"It shows the hypocrisy of House Republicans," he said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said this week he anticipates the Senate cutting these funds in its version of next year's budget.

By not making these cuts in the House, LeVota said House Republicans "have decided to pass the buck to the Senate."

LeVota and other Democrats were also critical of the cut to education.

Rep. Sara Lampe, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said that while it may be necessary to make these cuts eventually, this was not the time to do so.

"The 11th hour will be in conference," Lampe, of Springfield, said, referring to the joint conference between the House and Senate after the Senate passes its version of the budget. "My instinct would not be to give away the farm in the first round."

Lampe and LeVota said the House should consider cutting tax credits to help balance the budget.

The state paid more than $600 million in tax credits last year. The legislature has the authority to create or repeal tax credits, but does not have the authority to approve or deny exemptions within established programs. Legislation introduced by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, would subject tax credits to the appropriations process, which Lampe said she would support.

"Right now, the discussion of tax credits is separate from the discussion of the budget, and that's ludicrous," she said.

House Majority Floor Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said it was disingenuous for LeVota to criticize program total tax credits because LeVota had previously voted to approve them.

LeVota said Tilley is trying to avoid the issue.

Nixon's director of economic development, David Kerr, unveiled a plan Tuesday to cut tax credits in half by giving the Department of Economic Development more latitude in awarding the exemptions, but Tilley said this plan would be "ripe for corruption."

He said Democratic leadership has not worked with Republicans on the budget.

"They're not partners in this," he said. "They want to criticize, but they don't want to offer solutions."

The House will vote Thursday on whether to give the budget final approval before sending it to the Senate.

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