COLUMBIA — Local leaders across the state may soon find themselves confronted with decisions previously left to those in Jefferson City. After a legislative session focused largely on budget reductions, Missouri lawmakers have introduced a set of cost-shifting plans that would reduce money given to cities and counties for state services and require local governments to make up the funding difference on their own.
This phenomenon is not unique to Missouri; similar plans to share costs for state services are being pursued in Arizona, Maryland, Michigan and Mississippi.
Boone County may be most affected by reduced per diem reimbursements for state prisoners housed in county jails. Boone County Jail, which houses an average of 80 state prisoners per year, may experience a deficit of more than $70,000 in this year's operating budget because of this decrease in funding.
Other items affected in Missouri include county assessor services and police stings to prevent underage alcohol and tobacco sales.
Throughout Missouri, local officials have expressed frustration that the state's expectations — that they provide the same level of service with less state support — are unfair. Some, including Terry W. Nichols, have even compared the state's actions to stealing. Nichols is president of the County Commissioners Association of Missouri and the presiding commissioner in Iron County.
But state lawmakers, including outgoing Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, have justified their actions, saying it's not inappropriate to expect local governments to share in Missouri's financial pains. Those lawmakers plan to balance a $23.3 billion budget next year and said it can't be done without local-level cuts.
Should local governments be expected to assist in funding state services?