Mo. House advances new state budget

Thursday, March 25, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri House members looking to reduce the state's more than $23 billion budget started by taking a big chunk from education funding and then turned to minor chipping.

The House trimmed more than $200 million from the proposed budget for next year before giving it preliminary approval Wednesday. Roughly half those cuts came by cutting out a $106 million increase in basic state aid to Missouri's 523 school districts.

Missouri faces a budget deficit of at least $200 million for the spending plan that takes effect July 1. That could climb to as high as $500 million depending on whether Missouri receives and uses additional federal stimulus money.

Lawmakers' first move during the two-day budget debate was to eliminate the education increase and delay the implementation of a school funding formula drafted in 2005. Budget leaders said that cut saved higher education, prisons, tourism and child care from deeper trims.

Budget Committee chairman Allen Icet said the House balanced the state budget that would go to senators after another vote.

"The state needs to live within its means and the last thing we want to do was pass a budget which we know is out of balance," said Icet, R-Wildwood.

Some Democrats were pleased that deeper cuts to programs were avoided while others warned the budget could still cause pain.

"Cuts to this budget affect the most vulnerable," said Rep. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City.

The House also approved budget amendments reducing funding to state agencies for food, meetings and membership dues in national organizations.

It also cut the $45,000 salary intended for a chef at the governor's mansion.

Another series of amendments reduced the salaries of state department directors and top aides. Rep. Ryan Silvey estimated that imposing an $86,500 salary cap for department directors and aides to statewide officials and an $80,000 cap for deputy department directors would save $1.1 million.

Lawmakers also cut $500,000 from the House's operating budget and voted to save $391,200 by shrinking their own monthly expense accounts by $200.

Silvey, R-Kansas City, who sponsored many of the smaller money-saving amendments, said dire state budget troubles demanded searching for savings everywhere.

But the House passed up attempts at deeper budget cuts.

Legislators rejected amendments to eliminate more than $8 million for Amtrak passenger train service, blocked an attempt to raid funding for mass transit in Kansas City and overwhelmingly turned down the elimination of funding for tourism efforts. They also rebuffed numerous Democratic amendments designed to crack into a tourism fund that includes money for the Tour of Missouri bicycle race.

The spending plan endorsed by the House closes budget deficits caused by falling state revenue but still relies upon federal stimulus money. Missouri expects to receive $300 million of additional federal Medicaid aid if Congress extends a provision from the stimulus package.

Gov. Jay Nixon initially included that money in his budget proposal but now says it should be saved for the 2012 budget. The House budget plan calls for using the $300 million to make payments to physicians, nursing homes and prisoners' health care.

Some Republican lawmakers object to using the additional stimulus money, calling it "funny money" that cannot be counted upon and arguing that it increases the national debt.

Rep. Tim Flook, who gave status reports on the mounting national deficit, said it's time for states to simply cut spending and stop asking the federal government to bail them out.

"We keep going back to the bank and getting free lollipops because we are afraid to feel pain," said Flook, R-Liberty.

Budget is HB2001-2013

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