Missouri expects to receive more than $4 billion from the federal government through various economic stimulus packages. Of that, about half is earmarked for specific uses, with one of the biggest chunks going for transportation projects. That leaves about $2 billion to be budgeted by the Missouri Legislature.
As might be expected when such a large sum of money comes along, there is, so far, no clear-cut priorities for spending $2 billion. The task of allocating the federal stimulus money is further complicated by the fact that estimates of the state's revenue shortfall are climbing every day, and legislators are scrambling to make ends meet.
The federal stimulus money might be seen by some legislators as a Band-Aid for this year's revenue cuts resulting from a badly banged-up economy. But spending those bonus dollars on programs that ordinarily would be funded by Missouri's own revenue stream would be fiscally dangerous, if it leads to higher spending obligations in the future.
Missouri -- nor any other state -- can't expect such hefty infusions of federal dollars over the long term. Spending the stimulus funds will require some finesse so that the state gets the most benefit out of each dollar without committing the folks in Jefferson City to long-term spending demands.