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Columbia Missourian

Missouri schools, state employees bracing for potential cuts

By DAVID A. LIEB/The Associated Press
January 19, 2011 | 4:50 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri schools and state employees are bracing for potential spending cuts as Gov. Jay Nixon outlines his budget plan for next year.

The Democratic governor was to present his annual budget and State of the State address Wednesday evening to a joint session of the House and Senate.

Nixon's budget director has said K-12 public schools will not get the full amount called for by the state's funding formula. But the governor has not said whether he will recommend that school aid be cut or remain flat in the 2012 budget year that starts July 1.

Nixon has said he likely will recommend the elimination of more state employee positions. He also has said that colleges and universities are potential areas for cuts.

Like many states, Missouri has suffered through two consecutive years of declining state tax revenues, forcing cuts that could have been even deeper were it not for an influx of federal stimulus money for states.

Although Missouri tax revenues have begun to grow again, the federal stimulus money will be going away — leaving a budget gap larger than the projected natural growth in state revenues.

Nixon has said the state may have to close a shortfall of about $500 million during the 2012 fiscal year. Some lawmakers have put that figure closer to $300 million.

Education and mental health services both are likely targets for additional cuts because they depend heavily on state general revenues, as opposed to federal dollars or specially earmarked taxes such as those that fund roads. The state prison and probation system also depends on general revenues, but Nixon has said he has no plans to close a state prison.

Before Nixon delivered his budget, senators presented their own suggestions Wednesday for cost-saving changes to state government. Their second annual "Rebooting Government" process gathered recommendations online from the general public, then narrowed them down to a package of the best possibilities.

Among the larger ideas senators discussed Wednesday were changes to Missouri's education funding method, privatization of the state lottery and a switch to a four-day work week for state employees.

State Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, suggested Missouri could save hundreds of millions of dollars by using technology to replace the duties of thousands of state employees.

Other senators focused on smaller steps that could produce more immediate savings.

State Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, for example, said it appears that too many agencies spend too much money producing fancy paper-based publications instead of directing people to the Internet.

"We spend a lot of time printing slick, glossy folders," said Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis.