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Republican-led House pushes education budget through again
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Democratic lawmakers complained and supporters of Gov. Bob Holden protested in the Capitol halls as the Republican-led House flexed its majority muscle Wednesday to once again pass a pair of education budgets that Holden dislikes.
All the while, the prospects of a partial government shutdown grew.
With Missouri's fiscal year set to start Tuesday, the state still has no budget for public school districts, colleges and universities. And there is no sign of compromise between Republican lawmakers and the Democratic governor.
Holden has twice vetoed the budgets for K-12 and higher education. After the first veto, lawmakers used federal money to boost the spending authority for education.
But Holden said last week that the state's overall budget of $19 billion still was nearly $240 million out of balance, which would force him to withhold an identical amount of money -- mostly from education. Consequently, Holden vetoed the education bills a second time and asked lawmakers to send him an emergency 90-day appropriation for education.
The Republican-led legislature, however, has vowed to send Holden the identical full-year education budgets that he vetoed.
On Wednesday, Republican House members suspended their rules and bypassed a typical committee hearing on the budget bills. Then Republicans voted to prohibit any debate and gave preliminary and final approval to the two bills -- all in about one hour. The votes sent the bills to the Senate, which is expected to pass them again Friday.
Some House Democrats booed the Republican procedural maneuvers and temporarily walked out of the chamber.
"It is unconscionable that we cut the public out of the process today in a political hurry to shove this down the governor's throat," complained Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.
'Nothing has changed'
House Republican leaders countered that Democrats -- and the public -- had plenty of time to comment on the identical bills the first time around.
"Positively, absolutely nothing has changed since last week, and we had ample debate last week," said House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods.
Republicans rushed the bills through the House to allow time for the Senate to send them to Holden before the end of the fiscal year, she said.
"We are using every tool at our disposal -- procedural or otherwise -- to avoid an education system shutdown," Hanaway said.
Holden spokeswoman Mary Still criticized Republicans for not acting on Holden's recommended 90-day appropriation but declined to say whether Holden would again veto the budget bills.
"The House failed to act responsibly, and in so doing they have reduced opportunities for Missouri's school children," Still said.
The budget bills provide nearly $4.6 billion for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and a little more than $1 billion for the Department of Higher Education.
Both amounts are less than the agencies were appropriated this year and less than Holden requested. But the amounts are close to what the agencies received this year after midyear spending cuts caused by declining state revenues.
"Throughout this process we have tried to make education our No. 1 priority with what we have (available) to fund," said House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, who was the only lawmaker allowed to speak on the bills Wednesday.
When Holden initially called the special session, he asked lawmakers to let voters choose whether to avoid spending cuts by proposing tax increases on casinos, tobacco products and wealthier Missourians as well as by repealing some "corporate tax loopholes." The Legislature never considered his proposals.
As the House voted Wednesday on the education bills, about 350 of Holden's supporters gathered in the Capitol with signs proclaiming, "Education cuts don't heal" and "Protect Education, Close the Loopholes."
For a while, they rallied outside of Hanaway's office -- kept by Capitol police from entering it.