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House Budget Committee Passes Rainy Day Fund Proposal

March 20, 2002
0By: Kathryn Handley
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's $19 billion operating budget is headed for the House -- as well as the controversial plan of the governor to dip into the state's emergency reserve fund.

The House Budget Committee voted 13 bills out of committee and onto the House floor in less than half an hour.

The committee approved the proposed budget for fiscal year 2003 and the use of $75 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

That is substantially less than the governor's pplan to take $135 million from the reserve fund to help supplement the state's budget.

Use of any emergency reserve funds will require a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate.

Committee approval of the budget came just before the legislature will go on one-week spring break.

As a result, the House will be unable to take up the budget until early April -- the latest time for House action in at least a dozen years.

Privately, many lobbyists and legislators have been predicting the legislature would fail to pass a budget before the early-May deadline -- forcing the governor to call a special session for early summer.

Budget chair Tim Green, D-St. Louis, said he was not happy with the budget, but given the circumstances, it was acceptable.

"It's the best we can do at this stage," he said.

All but one of the 13 bills voted on passed easily, but there was at least one no vote for each bill presented.

The repeat dissenter was Rep. Larry Crawford, R-Centertown.

"I believe I have an obligation to set a balanced budget," he said. "We don't have a balanced budget, and the budget we're sending to the (House) floor includes funds we don't have."

The funds Crawford is referring to include gaming legislation that has not been passed and use of the Rainy Day Fund.

The Rainy Day Fund, the first bill presented, only squeezed past with a 14 to 12 party-line vote. It will take a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate to approve use of the reserve fund.

"Considering the challenges that we've faced, I'm glad we got it over the way we did," said Rep. Ted Farnen, D-Mexico.

When asked if he thought the Rainy Day Fund would get enough votes to pass the House and Senate, Farnen said, "not if it's like it was in the Budget Committee."

"There are some people who don't want to vote for the Rainy Day Fund, but they don't want to make any more cuts," Farnen said. "You've got to do one or the other."

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Boone County, said he was optimistic that spring break would give legislators a chance to think about the budget clearly, away from the pressures of the capitol.

"I think it will be helpful to get a fresh perspective in our districts outside this building," he said.