JEFFERSON CITY — Leaders in the Missouri House are pushing a proposed constitutional amendment to cap state spending.
Citing the failure of a constitutional amendment requiring voter approval of tax increases greater than $75 million to curtail state spending, Republican leaders said the amount of state money spent per year must be limited by the Missouri Constitution.
“What we have seen over the last 10 years is that you can never quench the thirst to grow government,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Brad Lager, R-Maryville. “We will always have to find new measures to control that.”
The committee voted Tuesday to send the proposed cap to the House floor. The spending limit would be based on increases in population and a weighted inflation index. Expanding medical costs would also receive extra consideration to compensate for years when medical costs rise faster than inflation.
Lawmakers estimated the cap would hold budget increases from 4 percent to 6 percent. Voter-approved tax increases would be exempt from the cap.
Although next year’s budget remains unfinished, it is projected to be about 3 percent higher than this year’s spending plan. The spending limit approved by the committee would have capped budget growth for fiscal 2006 at just more than 5 percent.
Revenue exceeding the cap would be diverted to an emergency fund that would be used to prevent the mid-year gubernatorial withholdings that have been used to compensate for revenue that comes up short of projections. Overflow money from the emergency fund would be given back to taxpayers.
“Looking beyond the budget cap, I know that past budget discussions would have loved to have this reserve fund — and I’m thinking both Democrat and Republicans,” said Rep. Peter Myers, R-Sikeston. “This thing regulates growth. It doesn’t stop it.”
At the behest of then-Gov. Bob Holden, the House tried to tap into a similar Rainy Day Fund to fill budget gaps in 2002. But Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said the Rainy Day Fund, which requires that the state begin repaying the account the year after it is tapped, has not been unsuccessful at curbing budget cuts because consecutive declining years would financially handcuff the state.
The emergency fund measure would allow the state to wait five years before starting repayments.
Although none of the Democrats on the committee voted for the bill, the level of opposition varied greatly.
Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County, said she opposed the idea because it would hamstring future budget discussions.
“We are trying to act like prophets here and see the future with economic growth,” he said. “But growth, like downturns, is often unexpected.”
Several other Democrats on the committee said they supported the idea but asked for several minor changes.
Rep. Jim Whorton, D-Trenton, said the cap should expire after six to 10 years to allow future legislatures an opportunity for renewal if it works. Rep. Ed Wildberger, D-St. Joseph, said he thought the budget cuts to social services and education for the past several years should be renewed before turning to caps.
The proposal is subject to approval from the General Assembly and by Missouri voters.
In other action at the Capitol:
n The Senate gave initial approval to a bill strengthening penalties against underage drinking and the penalties for those who provide alcohol to minors.
n The House gave initial approval to a measure limiting punitive damages for uninsured motorists involved in traffic accidents and debated without a vote a measure to legalize midwifery.