JEFFERSON CITY — On the eve of Missouri’s 2004 General Assembly session, legislative leaders and the governor’s office still are in dispute about how much money the state will have this year.
Meanwhile, the Revenue Department released figures showing the state’s revenue collections for the first half of the current budget year were 7.9 percent higher than last year. When $95.1 million of one-time federal aid is excluded, general revenue is up 4.8 percent as of December 2003.
Republican legislative leaders have argued for the last few months that the governor should release funds he has withheld from public schools because revenue collections have been running higher than expected.
But the state’s budget director, Linda Luebbering, said the governor wanted to wait on making a decision about releasing funds.
She said the increases for the first half of the fiscal year were expected. She said changes in federal taxes have resulted in overpaid money to the state that will be given back to the people when they file taxes.
House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, agreed that there is a historical trend that revenues will decrease in January, February and March as tax refunds are filed.
Bearden went on to say that tax collections would spike significantly in April when taxes owed to the state are paid — offsetting any decline in the first months of the year.
Although the public budget squabbling continues, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said they were closer to a “consensus revenue estimate” than they were last month with a difference of about $140 million remaining.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman John Russell, R-Lebanon, said the House and Senate have made progress toward a consensus revenue estimate.
But Luebbering said she was not optimistic about achieving agreement on revenue.
The governor will be including in his package “some of those targeted revenue sources again,” Luebbering said. She mentioned business tax breaks, gaming taxes and cigarette taxes as possibilities.
The legislature turned down many of these same ideas last year. Luebbering said the governor hopes the legislature will reconsider the measures after seeing the impact of the budget cuts legislators were forced to make.
The legislature likely will look at ending some business tax breaks and passing revenue-producing measures below the amount requiring a vote of the people, Russell said. He also said the legislature might consider gambling taxes that would require a vote of the people under the Hancock Amendment.
Last year, Russell was one of only a handful of Republicans willing to publicly indicate support for considering tax increases beyond eliminating a few narrow corporate tax breaks. Other Republicans, particularly in the House, slammed the door shut on the issue.