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Missouri lawmakers approve $23.3 billion spending plan

Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 6:49 p.m. CDT; updated 10:48 a.m. CDT, Friday, April 30, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers finished off a more than $23.3 billion budget Thursday that cuts millions in state spending and trims the state's payroll.

The budget bloodletting was spread across state programs, but the highest-profile cuts came in various education programs. Basic state funding for K-12 public school districts would remain the same even though Missouri's school funding formula called for a more than $100 million increase. Schools also will receive less state aid for busing. And the Parents as Teachers early childhood program would be cut by more than half to $13 million.

Spending on tourism was reduced; mental health and social services were trimmed; and less was budgeted for twice-daily Amtrak passenger train service between St. Louis and Kansas City. Colleges and universities will get 5 percent less, but that preserves a deal in which the schools agreed to not raise tuition next year for undergraduates from Missouri.

In all, lawmakers cut $484 million from the budget initially proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon in January. Nixon said in March that $500 million needed to be trimmed from his initial suggestions because tax revenues have continued to fall and state officials are uncertain about whether Missouri will receive an extension of federal stimulus money.

"You don't get any satisfaction in making those cuts knowing they impact people's lives," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter. "However, you also have to keep in mind that you have a responsibility as a state senator to put forward a budget that is balanced and keeps the state on good, solid financial ground in the future."

Overall, the budget is about $188 million higher than last year when federal money and other funding sources are counted. But there are several hundred million dollars less in general revenue that comes into the state through sales and income taxes.

The 2011 budget now goes to the governor — more than a week before the May 7 deadline. Nixon's budget director has already said it is likely the governor will have to make some "fairly significant" additional cuts to ensure the budget is balanced.

Nixon, who watched from a side gallery as senators gave final approval to the spending plan, praised lawmakers Thursday for approving a "fiscally responsible budget without raising taxes." But he warned that a variety of separate bills whose expected savings already had been factored into the budget still must be approved.

"Passing these budget bills is an important step, but it will not fully solve Missouri's fiscal challenges this year," the governor said in a statement. "The opportunities for cost-savings truly depend on the passage of numerous additional bills that right-size, restructure and refocus state government."

Lawmakers have two weeks to approve legislation.

The expected savings include eliminating state holidays, selling state property, combining the Highway Patrol and Water Patrol into one agency and making changes to state employee pensions system.

House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, , R-Wildwood, said it was unusual to book savings into the budget before the legislation has been approved but that it was necessary. He said he hoped passing the operating budget early would free time to debate the savings legislation.

"This is not the best way to do this necessarily, but given the challenging times the state faces, I would say this is the absolute best we can do," Icet said..

Missouri is expected to face worse budget troubles next year, and several lawmakers said the legislature should have cut deeper into the 2011 operating budget.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, who voted against the proposed budget, said he feared the state could not afford the spending and that Nixon would need to make significant cuts from the proposal approved by the legislature.

"I am so doggone right-wing that I think we ought to be cutting more," Bartle said..

House Democrats said that rather than searching for ways to cut more spending, legislators should be looking for ways to boost the state revenue. They suggested ideas such as curtailing tax credits and collecting sales taxes from online purchases.

"The budget crisis, as it has been called, is not a natural disaster," said House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence. "It is a man-made disaster, and it was created by this General Assembly."

 


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