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Senate approves education budget

April 22, 2003
By: Valerie C. Green
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The state's school districts will lose nearly $200 million -- a cut of 4 percent of the total Department of Education budget -- under a Republican budget measure approved by the state Senate Tuesday.

The governor's threat to veto the state budget appeared to have no effect on Republicans who moved forward with their plan to pass a spending measure Tuesday before addressing revenue issues.

The Senate Appropriations Committee presented a two-teir plan -- one with the hope that the legislature approves more than $200 million in increased revenue, and the other in case it doesn't.

Committee chairman Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said it was the best he could do with revenue estimates about $1 billion less than expenses.

Schools would receive an additional $100 million in cuts if these revenue increases don't pass.

Minority leader Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, went as far as to call the budget a joke and that they were doing it (explitive deleted) backwards. He suggested the Senate should have debated and passed the revenue measures before banking on them in the budget.

"Usually before you spend money, you make sure you have it on hand," Jacob said. "All the 'ifs' in this budget are troubling me."

The Senate Republican leadership promised to get to the revenue bills later this week.

"I think it is important for us to take a position on every revenue idea that we can think of," said Sen. Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, who sets the Senate debate schedule. "The appropriations committee has come to a position on the budget based on reality and we should deal with that first."

The deadline for passing a balanced budget is May 9 - 14 legislative working days from today (Wednesday).

Jacob said he doesn't think there is enough time left for both the House and Senate to pass the $200 million revenue increases, especially since House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, said her members will not accept tax increases.

"I've been waiting for four months to address the revenue needs of this state and I keep being told we will get to it tomorrow," Jacob said. "Now these bills aren't in a position to be passed."

The House version of the budget passed last month gave lump-sum payments to the state departments, leaving the specifics to department directors. That plan passed after only one day of debate, but the Senate is taking more time with its version to give exact dollar amounts to state programs. The differences would have to be reconciled in a joint committee of the two bodies.

"I think Missourians will understand that we've done the best we could for them," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, the Senate President Pro Tem. Kinder slapped a large sticker on his lapel - OTB - for On-Time Budget, but this is also an acronym used by critics of Gov. Bob Holden to mean One Term Bob.

"That's my answer to this problem -- an on-time budget," Kinder said.

The committee's budget also includes 7 percent cut in higher education, but the Senate skipped the higher education budget to move on to less-controversial budget areas late last night. Debate on higher education budgets and other state department budgets will continue today.