Missourians see good news, bad news in president's budget

Tuesday, February 5, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is seeking millions more dollars to restore fish and wildlife habitat along the Missouri River, but he also wants to cut flood control funding along the nation's waterways.

That is the story of a wartime budget proposal pinched by soaring defense costs, a budget deficit and tax cuts. Unveiled on Monday, Bush's budget proposal is a starting point for Congress, which actually spends the government's money.

The administration's proposal for Army Corps of Engineers projects is only one example of the good-news, bad-news blueprint that lawmakers will now confront.

The corps, which manages the flow of the nation's waterways, would get $17.5 million more to re-create Missouri River habitat lost to dams and channels for barge traffic, an increase of 30 percent over the current $13 million budgeted.

But construction projects such as Kansas City's Blue River Basin would see funding drop from $10.4 million to $6.7 million under Bush's budget. In Missouri's Bootheel, funding for a flood control project to close the state's only gap in the Mississippi River levee would drop from $1 million to $100,000.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., called the proposed cuts "unfortunate," while Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., called them "disappointing and inadequate."

Bond and Emerson, who serve on the Senate and House appropriations committees, are major boosters of corps projects but kept their criticism muted. Emerson said she "will be working hard this year to ensure that the corps has adequate resources," while Bond recognized that "this is a war year, and so national defense and homeland security are priorities in the budget."

Asking for the biggest increase in military spending in two decades, Bush proposed pushing Pentagon funding up $48 billion to $361 billion.

The request includes good news -- a 4.1 percent pay raise for military service members as well as buying more Missouri-made pilotless surveillance planes and other weapons. But it also would shave construction at U.S. military bases by $1.7 billion.

Missouri Rep. Ike Skelton, senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, lauded the idea of more military spending but criticized the reduction in on-base construction, calling it "penny-wise and pound-foolish."

In Missouri, the only military construction in Bush's proposal would be $15.5 million for a building to house tactical vehicle simulators at the Army's Fort Leonard Wood. Missouri installations currently have $43 million worth of military construction.

"We must continue our efforts to improve the quality of service for military personnel and quality of life for military families if we expect to retain and recruit the best and the brightest," Skelton said, arguing that pay raises should be bigger and that more soldiers are needed.

"As we fight the war on terrorism, we also run the risk of wearing out our men and women in uniform," he added.

Fewer attack jets

Another bit of bad news for Missouri was a reduction in the number of the Navy's Super Hornet version of the F/A-18 attack jet, which is built in St. Louis. Rather than the 48 planes called for in the Navy's contract with Boeing Co., the Pentagon is asking for 44. Overall, the Navy budget would reduce its five-year, 222-aircraft order by 10 planes.

Such a change could lead to a bigger pricetag for each aircraft as well as a delay in the delivery schedule, Sen. Jean Carnahan wrote Monday in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, warning him, "I intend to raise this issue at tomorrow's Armed Services hearing."

A key component of Bush's plan is $591 billion more in tax cuts over the next 10 years. Among the proposals are two breaks pushed by Missouri GOP Rep. Kenny Hulshof: tax-deferred farm savings accounts that let money from good years help weather the bad, and a plan to make last year's sweeping tax cuts permanent, rather than expiring after 2010 under current law.

Because the nation is at war and the economy is struggling, "getting these tax provisions passed will be tough," Hulshof said. "Hopefully, the President's support of these ideas will help provide momentum."

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