Agencies brace for budget cuts

Amendment 3’s reallocation of the General Fund is expected
to strain other departments.
Monday, December 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 9:00 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

State social service and education officials are expected to have to cut or reduce programs next year, when millions of dollars are redirected to pay for transportation and road projects.

More than three-quarters of Missouri voters approved Amendment 3 last month, which amends the state constitution to redistribute General Fund revenue from vehicle and fuels sales taxes.

In fiscal year 2006, which begins July 1, the General Fund will lose about $72 million, which will go to a transportation road bond fund. By fiscal year 2009, that amount will be about $185 million, said Bret Fischer, assistant director of resources for the state’s Office of Administration.

Fischer said it is impossible to know which state programs will be affected by Amendment 3. The 2006 budget won’t be unveiled by incoming Gov. Matt Blunt until next month.

“But we do know that as a result of Amendment 3 there will be approximately $72 million less General Revenue available — money that could have gone to education had the amendment failed,” Fischer said.

Gerri Ogle, associate commissioner for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said she is aware a reduction in some funding may occur, but cannot anticipate what programs will be affected. The department was neutral about the issue.

“We don’t take positive or negative stances on this type of issue,” Ogle said. “We just let people know what the potential impact could be.”

The only education group that publicly opposed Amendment 3 was the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association. Carol Schmoock, assistant executive director of the state chapter of the teachers’ union, said opponents had little money to fight Amendment 3. Supporters, which included the construction and convenience store industries, raised $1.9 million compared to just $5,700 raised by opponents, according to reports eight days before the election to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

“They had a great advantage to get their message to the public on billboards, on radio ads and on signs at gas stations,” Schmoock said.

“Their message was misleading. They said you can have great roads with no tax increase, but they have to take that money from the general revenue and they have no plan to replace it.”

The governor’s committee to end homelessness, a conglomerate of representatives from several state agencies, is also concerned that the redistribution will hurt already under-funded support services for low-income Missourians.

Liz Hagar-Mace, the committee’s chair, said the millions of dollars redistributed from the General Fund will harm the entire social service sector. Still, the group did not publicly oppose the amendment.

“I don’t think there was much of a push against it,” Hagar-Mace said.

Even a reduction of a couple million dollars from one department’s budget can result in the dissolution of an entire program.

In the past two years, cuts in the Missouri Department of Mental Health, totaling $21.3 million, meant the elimination of community-based psychiatric programs that helped 4,000 seriously and persistently mentally ill adults and children.

More recently, the state Division of Social Services recently cut $2.2 million from its budget by eliminating a program that provided temporary assistance to legal immigrants.

According to the 2005 executive budget for the department, “Without access to any safety net, these families are vulnerable, due to language and cultural barriers, to becoming homeless and living in poverty.”

Columbia’s homeless shelters and food distribution services rely more on private donors that state funding. However, several state programs support local low-income residents and the homeless.

“I would imagine the cut would indirectly affect us,” Sean Ross of the Central Missouri Food Bank said. “People will be getting fewer services, so they will need more food.”

Dirk Cable, of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and vice-chair of the committee, said that many programs around the state will be affected similarly.

“It’s probably not going to affect the emergency housing shelters since they are primarily privately funded,” he said. “But it will tend to deprive funds to the state programs that help with services.”

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