Spending lesson

Sunday, May 16, 2004

There is plenty of good budget news in Jefferson City these days.

The Missouri Legislature has completed work on the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. And, unlike sessions in recent years, there was more money to spend. The $18.9 billion budget is a whopping $1 billion increase over the current year's budget.

Keep in mind that there was a good deal of uncertainty a year ago that the state could afford this year's budget even with its spending cuts. But the state's economic fortunes have brightened since then. Gov. Bob Holden has released all of the funds that had been withheld as a cushion.

Perhaps the best budget news is that legislators restrained themselves to the tune of $700,000, choosing to keep those anticipated dollars as a reserve.

The recent years of slowed state revenue and huge spending demands has been a tough lesson for Missouri -- a lesson that was not learned when a decade of economic good times powered a spending spree that presumed the state would always have plenty of money.

If the state's tax revenue grows by 4.5 percent -- the projection for the coming fiscal year -- there will be enough to fund the billion-dollar increase in spending with a bit of reserve to take care of revenue dips or help meet unexpected expenses.

This year's budget is a step in the right direction for fiscal prudence. Learning not to spend every bit of revenue is tough, but it is essential as the state and national economies sort themselves out.

Let's hope the memories of state budgeting the past couple of years doesn't fade anytime soon. The lessons of fiscal restraint and responsibility should keep the state in good stead for years to come.

But if lawmakers get back on the tax-and-spend train, Missourians can only look forward to another derailment down the track.

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