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Senate Committee Faces Budget Challenges

April 08, 2002
By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The budget is in the hands of the Missouri Senate, and Senate Appropriations Committee members are divided on the rainy day fund proposal. Some senators say they think it is unconstitutional, and others say they think it is the only solution. But questions about funding public schools persist.

Appropriations Committee member Sen. Morris Westfall, R-Halfway, said the committee had not made any decisions yet. "We left all the controversial things wide open," he said. "We've talked about some things...things that hurt deeply, and they affect programs across the board.

If we are going to do our constitutional duty of balancing the budget, we are going to offend some people."

Senate Appropriation Committee member Sen. Stephen Stoll, D-Festus, said funding senior services, mental health and funding for local schools are among the challenges facing the committee.

The School Foundation Formula is the state's method for distributing money to local school districts. Several Senate committee members agreed that the formula would not be able to be fully funded next year.

Westfall said despite not fully funding the formula, education is the only other department except corrections to get an increase in funds for next year.

"And we've got to take care of corrections, or let some prisoners loose," he said.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said if the formula is not fully funded, it would have a "disproportionate impact" on Columbia public schools because Columbia has a higher tax base and would therefore receive less state money.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said not fully funding the formula does not mean schools would not have enough money to operate.

"If there's an increase over last year, the school districts would still receive additional money," Russell said. "But maybe not as much as they'd like.

Most districts will have from several thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars increase."

Under the governor's revenue estmates, the budget would be out of balance by $53 million if usage of the rainy day fund is not approved.

But that is based on the assumption that the Senate goes along with the House on some gambling-tax increases and other funding increases passed by the House.

Graham said the budget might be out of balance by as much as $280 million if those House approved plans to increase revenue are not accepted by the Senate.