Negotiators press ahead on budget cuts

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The Republican-led legislature was pressing ahead Monday with plans to cut the state payroll as Democratic Gov. Bob Holden continued to plead behind the scenes for lawmakers to consider new revenue sources.

As a special legislative session entered its third week, budget negotiators from the House and Senate were meeting into the evening to try to settle differences between the two chambers' versions of a revised state budget for education and human services.

They had tentatively agreed to eliminate some bureaucratic positions -- but far fewer than the 538 jobs the House had originally sought to cut.

The legislature is in a special session because Holden vetoed roughly two-thirds of the expenditures in the nearly $19 billion budget passed before the regular legislative session ended May 16. Holden claimed the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 was out of balance and objected to some of its cuts.

The governor proposed more than $700 million in new revenue, primarily from higher taxes on cigarettes, casinos and wealthy Missourians, as well as the repeal of what he calls "corporate tax loopholes."

The legislature has refused to vote on many of Holden's revenue proposals -- both in the regular session and special session.

Autism money restored

Negotiators agreed to restore language earmarking $200,000 in autism spending to expand services offered in Southeast Missouri, though with some trepidation.

The provision was included in the House version but deleted by the Senate. It wasn't in the budget for the Department of Mental Health the governor rejected.

State Sen. Wayne Goode, D-Normandy, said he supported the goal of providing better access to services but worried the provision was too broadly written and could result in wasteful spending.

House Majority Floor Leader Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said flexibility in how the money is spent is needed to provide the best range of services. The funding is being sought by a group of area parents with autistic children.

"What we are trying to do is get community-based services and let the parents decide what they want," Crowell said.

State Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said lawmakers tried something similar several years ago in which local parent councils decided what services would be offered with the available money from the state without any requirement for reasonable cost containment.

"What happened was the parent council chose to contract with a very expensive provider," Shields said. "As a result, very few children ended up being served by that region's pot of money."

In the end the panel agreed to allow the funding so long as the department closely monitors the situation and reports any problems to lawmakers.

Personal plea

On Monday, Holden and his budget officials made a personal appearance before a closed meeting of the House Republican caucus.

Holden again pleaded with the GOP majority to consider new revenue sources. He has offered to accept more spending cuts if they would refer at least a limited revenue plan to the ballot.

Some Republicans weren't impressed with what they heard from the governor in their private meeting.

"I feel he didn't aid his cause any," said Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, chairman of the House Tax Policy Committee. "The bottom line is I went home this weekend and Republicans and Democrats alike told me: 'Shannon, do not raise my taxes,' and I don't think the governor understands that."

Meanwhile, Holden's office was seeking support from Republican senators to revive bills that would end some of his targeted "tax loopholes" and lift the state's $500 gambler's loss limit at casinos.

Bills to do that were heard last week by the Republican-controlled Senate Ways and Means Committee, which failed to vote on the proposals and others calling for tax increases.

Under Senate rules, 12 senators can petition bills out of the committee for consideration by the entire chamber.

However, Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, could block such a move by referring the bills to another committee. Twelve members of the Senate also could act to send the bills to another committee.

Staff writer Marc Powers contributed to this report.

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