Holden, legislature prepare for special session on budget

Monday, June 2, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- After weeks of accusations, political posturing and complex accounting, Gov. Bob Holden prepared to square off this week against the Republican-controlled legislature in a special session on Missouri's state budget.

From the fall of the gavel at noon today, Holden and the legislature will have less than a month to pass a revised state budget or face a potential government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins July 1.

Despite the gravity of the situation, activity at the Capitol will begin slowly. Budget bills -- as well as potential revenue bills -- must be introduced in the chambers, then sent to committees.

Actual floor debate on bills in the House isn't likely to begin before Thursday, while Senate debate may have to wait until next week.

The result is that less than a full complement of lawmakers was expected at the Capitol early in the week, so the special session may end up costing less than the estimated $98,000 a week.

The Democratic governor expressed optimism last week that there may be some movement among lawmakers to consider tax increases, although Republican leaders maintain that isn't likely.

Holden claims the budget passed by lawmakers last month is $367 million out of balance and cuts $354 million from the appropriations for education and human services that he had recommended in January.

Republican legislative leaders contend the budget is no more than $12 million short of balancing. They say lawmakers are likely to make minor changes -- but not the major rewrite sought by Holden.

"I don't anticipate that tax increases will pass in the House," said House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, who leads the first Republican House majority in 50 years.

"We'll figure out how to make this budget work ... and then put it back on his desk," she said.

Holden wants lawmakers to reverse the cuts and raise between $600 million and $700 million in new revenue -- largely through tax increases referred to the statewide ballot later this summer. Democrats have been running TV commercials to spread the governor's message.

No mood for taxes

Republicans argue that Missourians are in no mood to support tax increases, citing the voter rejection of three tax measures last year.

"We are not coming up here to put large revenue packages out there to a vote of the people," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "We will send him a budget not tremendously dissimilar to the one he got."

Republican lawmakers have suggested that an expected influx of almost $400 million in federal aid could be used to restore some of the planned cuts to public schools and health care programs for the poor.

Holden's budget office said the money would only be a one-time solution to an ongoing budget problem.

Kinder suggested some money could be restored to Medicaid and education, but he also said there may be ways to cut the bureaucracy by trimming management positions throughout state government.

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