Pledging cooperation

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Missouri's elected officials face some tough obstacles in the weeks and months ahead, most notably the effect the national economic recession is having on state revenue.

Some estimates indicate there will be a state budget shortfall approaching $350 million.

In the Show Me State, $350 million is a significant amount, but it pales by comparison to the projected deficits in other states, including California's anticipated $28 billion shortfall -- an amount that far exceeds the total planned spending of $22.4 billion in Missouri during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Fueling the coming budget debate in the Missouri Legislature will be spending requests from state agencies. In anticipation of the crunch, Gov. Jay Nixon has asked state-funded agencies and institutions to prepare "what if" budgets reflecting decreases in appropriations. This exercise has given much of state government a glimpse of what is likely to happen if the economy continues to falter.

Throughout this process, legislative leaders and the governor have pledged to work cooperatively. When administrations change, as happened earlier this month when Gov. Matt Blunt's term ended and Nixon's began, it is typical to hear politicians say they intend to move the business of governing forward through a spirit of bipartisan give and take. This year will be a real test of that resolve.

Missouri, like other states, is constitutionally bound to balance its budget. Unlike the federal government, it cannot incur huge budget deficits by spending more money than it takes in. All those pledges of bipartisanship and cooperation for the good of Missouri will come due quickly.

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