Lawmakers seek cap on state spending

Sunday, March 14, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Driven by the sentiment that Missouri government was taking too much money from taxpayers, state voters in 1980 adopted the Hancock Amendment, which said that if state revenue collections grow at a faster rate than Missourians' average personal income, the state has to refund the difference.

The constitutional leash was tightened further in 1996 when voters stripped the legislature of the power to raise taxes by any significant amount without voter approval.

While both changes have served as a brake on revenue collections, neither directly addressed state spending. A proposed constitutional amendment approved last week by the House Budget Committee would add a spending cap to go with the revenue limits.

Under the Republican-sponsored measure, general revenue appropriations could only grow from one fiscal year to the next by the rate of inflation plus an additional 1 percent. Extra revenue that lawmakers couldn't spend because of the cap would be placed in the state's rainy day fund or returned to taxpayers.

General revenue is the portion of the budget over which lawmakers have the most control. Such appropriations for the current fiscal year account for $6.79 billion, or 37.5 percent, of the total $18.1 billion state budget.

However, three state departments -- elementary and secondary education, higher education and social services -- together receive two-thirds of all general revenue dollars.

As a result, advocates of education and social programs, areas that have suffered cuts in recent years, have banded together to oppose any appropriations cap.

Otto Fajen, a lobbyist for the Missouri National Education Association, said the formula for distributing state aid to local schools is currently underfunded by $700 million. Providing full funding alone would require a 10 percent boost in appropriations.

Fajen said constitutionally capping spending "would create a disaster the voters could not readily undo."

If the amendment clears the legislature, voters would decide the matter in November.

Tucker highway

To get to meetings of the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission, most people take Interstate 55 to the Perryville exit and follow Highway 51 into town.

State Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, says its only fitting that those attending such meetings should travel the Thomas G. Tucker Jr. Memorial Highway to get there.

A House committee last week approved a bill that would name a section of Highway 51 after Tucker, the commission's longtime executive director who recently died. The highway would stretch from I-55 to U.S. 61. Lipke said the $800 needed to put signs at both ends of the road would be raised privately.

Medicaid bill signed

For some parents it has been a nightmarish decision: In order for their children to get needed mental health services, they have to relinquish custody to the state.

That dilemma is one they will no longer have to make under a bill Gov. Bob Holden signed into law last week. The measure will allow such children to qualify for Medicaid without becoming wards of the state.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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