Budget totaling $18.49 billion clears House committee

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House Budget Committee on Monday endorsed an $18.49 billion state spending plan that would boost total appropriations by 3.7 percent from what lawmakers originally approved for the current fiscal year.

Despite boosting appropriations by $662.6 million for the fiscal year starting July 1, the Republican-led committee's proposal is $329.3 million -- nearly 1.8 percent -- short of what Democratic Gov. Bob Holden recommended in January.

State Rep. Carl Bearden, the House budget chairman, said the full chamber could take up the various appropriations bills that make up the state operating budget later this week. The bills will face Senate review once they clear the lower chamber. The constitutional deadline for sending the budget to the governor is May 7.

Once Missourians file their income tax returns next week, lawmakers will have a clearer picture of the amount of revenue the state will have to spend. If growth in collections is strong, some spending items eliminated by the committee could be restored later in the budget process.

"I think we have a budget right now that probably doesn't spend quite as much as we will realistically receive," Bearden said.

The committee endorsed $4.65 billion in total spending for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education -- $100 million more than approved for this year and only $61.4 million less than Holden requested.

The Department of Social Services would see a $535.1 million increase to bring its budget to $6.1 billion. The 9.6 percent increase is necessitated by the growth of entitlement programs such as Medicaid. The committee recommendation is $129.2 million less than Holden sought.

Appropriations for other state departments would remain relatively flat, with some getting slight increases and others small decreases.

The House committee plan also calls for eliminating more than 500 state jobs that have remained vacant for more than three months for a savings of $20 million.

Since DESE officials use some of the savings from job vacancies to pay outside contractors for necessary services, Bearden said he was willing to restore some of the money for that department. However, he wants that spending clearly accounted for in the budget and the practice of spending money outside of the scope of its appropriation ended.


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