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UPDATE: Missouri Senate panel endorses roughly $24B budget plan

Thursday, April 12, 2012 | 5:32 p.m. CDT; updated 8:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 12, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri Senate committee signed off Thursday on state spending cuts to social services while sparing education from budget blood-letting.

The social service cuts include less money for state grants to preschools and for subsidized child care to low-income working parents. While the Senate Appropriations Committee reduced a cut the House proposed for a health care program for the blind, its plan assumes participants would start paying deductibles and premiums.

But the panel's plan would keep funding flat for colleges, while offering a modest boost to the state formula for distributing basic aid to Missouri school districts.

In all, the Senate Appropriations Committee embraced a roughly $24 billion budget that is about $86 million less than the version approved earlier by the state House. The budget now moves to the full Senate, and a committee of House members and senators are likely to meet to negotiate the differences. Lawmakers have until May 11 to pass a budget for the 2013 fiscal year that starts July 1.

Senate Appropriations Committee Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he expects further changes to be made to the budget. He said one reason for the cuts made by the committee is that it did not presume the passage of separate legislation to boost state revenues by offering an amnesty to collect overdue tax revenues. The tax amnesty was estimated to generate about $70 million in revenue.

The Missouri budget is broken into 13 separate bills based upon topic. For example, the first budget bill deals with state debt while the next two cover public schools and higher education. Each budget bill is voted on separately.

The two budget bills covering public debt and schools were approved unanimously by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Republican Sen. Jim Lembke voted against the remainder, while fellow Republican Sen. Will Kraus voted against five of the bills.

Lembke, who voted against most of the budget last year, said he believes estimates for how much revenue state government will collect are inflated and the budget is not balanced. He said about $200 million included in the budget amounts to one-time money that is not sustainable.

"We have to address these functional holes in our state budget, and we still haven't done it," said Lembke, of St. Louis County. "We're headed in the right direction. The Senate certainly did some hard lifting over what the House did."


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