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Lawmakers' figures vary on revenue
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- When Republican lawmakers said the $19 billion state budget they sent last week to Democratic Gov. Bob Holden was no more than $200 million out of balance, the administration countered that the deficit was actually closer to $500 million.
Mathematical differences continued Tuesday on the main piece of legislation intended to help get the budget in balance.
House Republicans say the bill, which calls for small tax and fee increases and the closure of certain tax loopholes, would raise $104.3 million. Senate Republicans put the estimate at $110.8 million.
State budget director Linda Luebbering, meanwhile, claims it would generate only $75.2 million.
The House approved the bill 87-46 on a largely party-line vote carried by majority Republicans. Though some Senate Democrats say the bill raises too little revenue, even if the rosier predictions prove true, the upper chamber endorsed it by a unanimous 32-0 vote.
The bill was sent to Holden to be signed into law.
State Rep. Carl Bearden, the House Budget Committee chairman, said there is an element of guesswork in the legislature's projections, but the administration's financial estimates have been unreliable throughout the process.
"These things are going to have to come out in the wash, but I am confident we are going to have a balanced budget," said Bearden, R-St. Charles.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, disagreed.
"People can pound their chests and say this will raise $110 million, but that is just hot air," Jacob said.
The bill's many elements include increasing the tax on the purchase of luxury yachts, raising the fees charged to drunken drivers for attending court-ordered substance abuse treatment classes and subjecting the lottery winnings of out-of-state residents to Missouri taxation.
It also seeks to prompt some tax scofflaws to pay up by giving the state the power to revoke professional licenses if they don't and offering amnesty so taxpayers can settle back taxes without financial penalty.
The latter action was applied last year with much success. However, the Department of Revenue expressed concern with offering amnesty again so soon.
The department says a second round of amnesty could encourage people to delay paying their taxes as they will come to expect the break. According to the department, no state has ever offered the same type of amnesty program two years in a row, with a 10-year average lag time between such programs.
State Rep. Denny Merideth, D-Caruthersville, complained that the bill fails to close major loopholes that have helped shift the state tax burden from corporations to individuals. Among those loopholes is one that allows companies to shift profits made in Missouri to shell corporations in tax-haven states.
"People need to understand that over the last three years the actual dollars individuals paid in taxes basically remained the same. In the same three years, actual dollars paid by corporations decreased by 25 percent," said Merideth, a budget committee member.
Others bills pending in the legislature that would redirect interest that has accrued in various state accounts into general revenue or implement cost-saving procedures are expected to close the deficit by another $100 million.
The legislature has to approve the budgetary fixes before its constitutional adjournment deadline at 6 p.m. Friday.
Holden has indicated he may veto portions of the budget, which he considers underfunded at the expense of education, health care and social services.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, said he told the governor Tuesday that calling lawmakers into a special session to redo the budget would serve no purpose.
"In all likelihood the governor would get precisely the same budget we passed," Kinder said.
HOW THEY VOTED
How Southeast Missouri lawmakers voted on House Bill 600, which generates revenue to help balance the state budget. The bill was sent to the governor following a 87-46 House vote and 32-0 Senate vote:
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
|Otto Bean, R-Holcomb||Yes|
|Lanie Black, R-Charleston||Yes|
|Mike Dethrow, R-Alton||Yes|
|Kevin Engler, R-Farmington||Yes|
|Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill||Absent|
|Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff||Yes|
|J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence||No|
|Scott Lipke, R-Jackson||Yes|
|Rob Mayer, R-Dexter||Yes|
|Peter Myers, R-Sikeston||Yes|
|Wes Wagner, D-DeSoto||Absent|
|Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff||Yes|
SOURCE: The Associated Press