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UPDATE: Missouri senator vows to block one-time budget funds

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | 6:48 p.m. CDT; updated 8:44 a.m. CDT, Friday, March 23, 2012

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Crowell's statement to Schaefer.

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri senator warned Wednesday that he will block any efforts to generate one-time money for the state budget until there is consideration of sweeping changes to such things as the state's tax credit, pension and prison-and-probation systems.

Sen. Jason Crowell contends lawmakers have been patching together budgets with "gimmicks" for years and — as a term-limited senator in his last year — Crowell no longer has the leeway of waiting until next year to consider broad, structural changes to the way Missouri raises and spends money.

During a sharp exchange Wednesday on the Senate floor, Crowell unleashed the brunt of his frustration on Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, accusing him of passing budgets that weren't balanced and led Gov. Jay Nixon to make cuts. Schaefer denied that assertion, contending some of Nixon's cuts were unnecessary.

Crowell blocked a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment by Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, that would give lawmakers up to six years — instead of the current three — to replenish money borrowed from the state's rainy day fund. He also vowed to block a bill heard Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee that would sweep up to $332 million from dozens of specialized state funds to be spent as general revenue in the state budget.

"We're not going to make it easier for you to spend money," Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said during a Senate debate with Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Schaefer broke off the debate after Crowell accused him of calling another senator a liar* several years ago, doing the bidding of a political consultant and favoring the interests of a housing developer who benefits from state tax credits.

"I'm not sure of some of the allegations you're making here," said Schaefer, adding that Crowell wasn't debating on "a professional level."

Part of Crowell's outrage was directed at the proposed $24 billion budget for the state's 2013 fiscal year that is expected to win passage Thursday in the Republican-led House. The budget would then advance to Schaefer's Senate committee.

Crowell contends the House budget is out of balance because, among other things, it relies on generating about $70 million from an amnesty period that would waive interest and penalties for delinquent taxpayers who pay up between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31. He also vowed to block Nixon's plan to generate revenue by increasing the Department of Revenue's authority to collect debts, including by garnishing money from the bank accounts of people who owe taxes.

Crowell said he opposes a plan embraced by both Nixon and Silvey to divert $40 million from a settlement with mortgage lenders to help plug the budget by avoiding cuts to public colleges and universities.

Silvey insisted the proposed House budget is balanced.

"I would categorically disagree that it's patched together with gimmicks," said Silvey, later adding "if the Senate doesn't want to pass the legislation that funds the revenue, then they can make the corresponding cuts."

Crowell used a filibuster threat last year during a special session to force the Senate to make changes to a bill that would have authorized several new tax breaks for businesses while paring back existing tax credits. That legislation ultimately failed when the House and Senate couldn't reconcile their differences.

This year, there has been little movement on the tax-credit-overhaul legislation. Crowell wants lawmakers to make another push for it, as well as to further rein in costs of public pension plans and to change criminal sentencing laws so that people who commit minor probation violations don't get sent to prison for lengthy terms. He notes that it costs more than $20,000 a year to house a prisoner, when the costs of facilities and staff are combined with food, clothing and health care.

"I want a hard analysis of how we spend taxpayer dollars," Crowell said.

Senate Republicans held a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday night to discuss priorities for the remainder of the session that ends May 18, including how they will handle the budget, tax amnesty plan and a House proposal to cut health care for the blind.

 


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