Holden, Legislature prepare for special session on budget

Monday, June 2, 2003

Associated Press WriterJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri's Legislature began a special session Monday -- called back to work by Gov. Bob Holden to reconsider spending cuts to education and human services, and decide whether to refer tax increases to voters.

The gavel fell around noon Monday, giving Holden and the Legislature about 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 began slowly. Budget bills -- as well as potential revenue bills -- must be introduced in the chambers, then sent to committees.

Because there was little work that could be accomplished on the first day, only about 30 of the 163 House members were present in the chamber -- some in jeans and casual shirts, instead of the formal attire required by House rules. All but one of the 33 senators were present for opening day.

Actual floor debate on bills in the House and Senate isn't likely to begin before Thursday.

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.

Democratic Gov. Bob Holden 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."

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

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

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 -- and that the state actually could net just $275 million after the federal aid is offset by tax cuts contained in the same legislation.

------On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

Gov. Bob Holden: http://www.gov.state.mo.us

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: