JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's Senate approved a package of bills that would substantially reduce on-going state budget obligations Tuesday.
"We don't have the willpower to make reforms elsewhere," Crowell said.
Education cuts dominate Senate debate
In a General Laws committee meeting held earlier Tuesday, a resolution to combine the Elementary and Secondary Education Department and the Higher Education Department into one department was unanimously approved.
Shields said the resolution would eliminate the State Board of Education and Coordinating Board for Higher Education, establishing a new board with different representation. The board would include members from each congressional district, as well as four at-large members with backgrounds in higher education, elementary and secondary education, early childhood development and economic development.
Although the consolidation presents an opportunity for the state to save money, Shields said the main goal of the department merger is to provide a more cohesive transition for students from their first day of school to graduation.
"A lot of people think it's budgetary," Shields said in the committee meeting. "We're going to create a seamless education system from pre-K to the workforce. To do that in a manner that's consistent with lifelong learning, we're going to provide education along the entire continuum."
Shields said a definite estimate of cost savings from the consolidation has yet to be calculated, but he said the state could save $1 million with administrative cuts in the higher education department.
If the joint resolution passes the Senate, it would then go to the House. Because the education department consolidation would alter wording in the Missouri Constitution, the bill would go to Missouri voters — if passed by the House — in the November election.
Combining the water and highway patrols
Later in the full Senate, Shields continued the Senate's "rebooting state government" philosophy in a bill, SB1057, that he said will save more than $2 million in immediate cuts, with long-term cost savings in increased department efficiency.
The bill would put the State Water Patrol under the jurisdiction of the State Highway Patrol in the Public Safety Department. Shields said uniform staff jobs would not be cut under the change, only administrative cuts brought on by the consolidation.
Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said consolidating state departments and agencies isn't enough to salvage Missouri from the unprecedented budget deficit.
"We don't have enough departments to merge to get us to the $500 million dollars we need," Lembke said.
Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, said he believes all government departments and agencies need to cooperate with the essential changes in government structure, even if those changes are small.
"We are talking about out of a $8 billion budget, and in the next year and a half, cuts of about $2 billion," Green said. "There are small steps being taken. I think the responsible thing for the water patrol and highway patrol is to step up to the plate."
Shields' bill would also move the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control from the control of the Public Safety Department to the Revenue Department, a move he said could save approximately $1 million by cutting jobs. Local law enforcement would be put in charge of enforcing tobacco and alcohol laws.
Another provision in the bill would create a committee to study the pros and cons of merging the Health and Senior Services, Mental Health and Social Services departments into one all-encompassing department.