Missouri Senate has sensible budget plan

Friday, April 25, 2003

When Gov. Bob Holden presented his budget proposal for fiscal year 2004, which starts July 1, his spending plan wasn't much higher than the current fiscal year, a drastic turn from a decade of sharply increasing expenses for state government. But the governor's plan was sorely lacking in revenue. As a matter of fact, to pay for Holden's spending plan, the state would have to come up with more than $700 million in new revenue.

Not only was such an increase in revenue, mostly from higher taxes, unlikely to pass muster with Missouri's voters, but the timing was way out of whack. Under Holden's timetable, the legislature would have to approve spending plans that relied on tax increases to be authorized by voters after the current legislative session ended.

That would have been a huge gamble, and this option has been wisely discounted by both the House and Senate as they complete work of the state budget. But gambling issues are still an important part of the budget approved this week by the Missouri Senate and sent to the House. The Senate version is a bit higher than the plan put together in the House. And spending in the Senate's plan could be increased modestly if new revenue measures also are adopted before the session ends. The Senate plan sees a significant portion of any revenue increase coming from the elimination of the state's $500 loss limit on riverboat gamblers.

The governor has been quite vocal throughout the legislative budget process. He continues to push for revenue increases by being negative about the budgeting process of the Republican-controlled legislature rather than using his bully pulpit to persuade legislators to find more money. This year's bickering over state spending is much more than a debate about the budget. It is the critical issue on which Holden has chosen to place his bid for re-election next year.

In the process, the governor is making all kinds of dire predictions. He says the budget proposals coming out of the House and Senate aren't level-headed at all and will force drastic cuts in basic state services, including elementary and secondary education.

So what does Holden propose? He says if a budget without significant revenue increases arrives at his desk, he will veto it and call the legislature into special session.

To do what? Legislators can't manufacture more state revenue. Just about anything that would increase state spending would have to be done on the backs of taxpayers, and legislators are rightfully unwilling to vote for increased spending unless a solid source of revenue is already in place. Missouri has seen the consequences in recent years of budgeting based on faulty revenue estimates.

Most importantly, however, is the fact that the Senate's budget plan isn't that much less than the governor's (see Gary Rust's column below which gives details). So don't swallow Holden's bombastic rhetoric until you've looked at the figures.

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