JEFFERSON CITY— Chafed over a perceived reluctance by colleagues to cut government programs, some Republican Missouri senators have resorted to quoting an observation made nearly a half-century ago by Ronald Reagan.
"Government programs, once launched, never disappear," the future president said in a 1964 speech in support of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. "Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth."
In that regard, the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee took a step toward the impossible this past week. It voted to eliminate state funding for several government programs — just not as many as some senators would have liked.
The Senate committee reduced general revenue expenditures by $506 million — meeting Gov. Jay Nixon's budget-cutting goal for the more than $23.8 billion budget he proposed for 2011. Most of the cuts — some slight, others major — allowed government programs and services to continue.
But some programs will be gone when the new budget begins July 1, unless the full Senate and House reverse the work of the Senate committee. Some of the programs zeroed out of the budget include:
- Career Ladder, established in 1985, which pays teachers an extra $1,500 to $5,000 annually for taking on extra duties such as after-school tutoring. Last year, about one-quarter of the public K-12 school teachers participated in the program. Before getting the ax, it had been due to receive $37.5 million in next year's budget.
- Life Sciences Research Board, authorized under a 2003 law, which received nearly $21 million in 2009 and was budgeted for more than $13 million this year. The governor had proposed to drop that to $5 million next year before the Senate panel took it to zero.
- Grants for the arts, humanities and public broadcasting. Included in that is a secretary of state's program that provided money for books, videos and audio recordings at libraries. The House proposed to reduce funding for each of those programs. The Senate struck them out.
- Missouri Scholars and Fine Arts academies, a pair of three-week summer programs for gifted high school students. Recently funded at over $700,00, the academies were cut to $259,000 in the current budget and would get nothing next year. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he fears the academies will have to close. Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, a proponent of the cut, volunteered to donate $100 for a private-fundraising drive.
- A video project that records the stories of World War II veterans. About 1,300 videos already have been produced, and a Chesterfield-based company has spent more than $1.7 million of state money. The Senate panel said "no" to funding an additional $300,000 next year.
- Grants for programs that train adults who want to start agricultural businesses. The programs spent more than $350,000 in 2009 but were reduced to $200,000 this year. The Senate panel opted for nothing next year.
- Aid to help pay off loans for MU students who agree to work as large-animal veterinarians in rural areas lacking such professionals. The $120,000 annual program is in just its second year. State agriculture director Jon Hagler says it hasn't yet attracted new students into the large-animal practice. Eliminating its funding would mean no grants for next year, though students who already received money still would be bound to work in rural areas.
- Youth tobacco prevention programs, which Nixon originally had recommended receive $500,000 next year. The House reduced that to $200,000. The Senate took that to zero.
The elimination of programs, while bemoaned by some on the 11-member Senate Appropriations Committee, did not go nearly far enough for other senators.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, tried unsuccessfully to eliminate funding for numerous programs, including a $127,500 grant that helps retired Creve Coeur residents remain in their homes by paying for fix-it projects, chores and other aid.
In another example, Nixon wanted to eliminate a character education program in public schools, which got about $775,000 in this year's budget. But the House and Senate committee both opted to keep the program going with a $100,000 appropriation next year.
Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, explained why eliminating programs can be so tough.
"You're affecting some person who benefits from them, so it's always going to be difficult," Green said.
A frustrated Lembke paraphrased Reagan.
"The closest thing to eternity is a government program," Lembke said. "It seems pretty accurate."