By Jason Crowell
The Missouri General Assembly adopted during this limited special session a balanced budget that does not rely on tax increases and ensures that government lives within its means.
In spite of this Herculean effort, Gov. Bob Holden has announced his intention to veto the appropriation bills for secondary and higher education again and renewed his call for higher taxes.
Protecting vital services
The General Assembly passed the four previously vetoed budget bills that fund education, mental health, senior services and social services. These bills will use $105 million of $398 million in newly available federal funds to restore previous budget reductions, keeping $85 million in reserves and $208 million in a state financial security lockbox to ensure that these funds are used responsibly. Further restoration to education and services will be made available through reductions to bureaucratic positions and department expenses.
More than $5.7 million for community services in mental health for alcohol and drug abuse, the developmentally disabled and psychiatric services for children will be restored in House Bill 10, including a provision that I sponsored securing $200,000 for autism services in Southeast Missouri.
Missouri's alternatives to abortion program has also been protected. House Bill 11 will increase funding to nursing homes by $5 million and federally qualified health centers to strengthen rural patients by $2 million. Also included in HB 11 is a provision protecting more than $500,000 for Missouri's domestic violence prevention and treatment programs.
Education vetoed again
Education has remained the No. 1 budget priority for the House throughout the budget process. With an overall higher-education increase of $14.4 million, funding for Southeast Missouri State University will increase $620,644 over the budget passed in May. Missouri's Bright Flight Scholarship program and the Gallagher Grants program, which provides needs-based scholarships, will be funded to its current level. Education funding appropriated for fiscal year 2004 will be the same as the actual funding for fiscal year 2003, which is an increase of $490 million compared to what was spent in fiscal year 2001. All in all, this means that school districts will receive the same amount of state aid this year as last year.
Unfortunately, the governor jeopardized the education appropriations with a veto of House Bill 2 and House Bill 3 this week. By refusing to drop his demands for higher taxes and vetoing the bills, Holden is creating the possibility that there may not be an appropriation for education funding when the new fiscal year starts July 1.
The General Assembly will return next week and send the exact same education appropriation bills back to the governor that we passed this week. Nothing has changed since the General Assembly passed the education bills except for the governor's renewed call for higher taxes. The governor will not get his tax increases. If Holden does not sign the bills, he will prevent an appropriation for education. The governor's decision to veto the education budget was irresponsible.
The General Assembly passed a balanced budget that restored education funding and protected vital services without a tax increase. I will not back down on my pledge to hold the line on taxes, and I will continue to fight the governor's demand for higher taxes. The governor should sign the appropriation bills for education.
Unlike the governor's purely political handling of this year's state budget, here in Southeast Missouri we put people above politics, and that is what I have aspired to do this regular and special legislative session. If we take the governor at his word and he truly believes that the appropriation bills for education that the House and Senate adopted on a bipartisan basis are "out of balance," then instead of vetoing education bills he should veto the entire state budget.
To sign some appropriation bills and not others all the while arguing that the budget is not balanced and that is why "I am vetoing education" is illogical.
Either the entire budget is out of balance and he should veto it all, or it is not and he should sign it all under his position.
It is like being just a little bit pregnant. It is an impossibility.
Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau is the state representative for District 158.