JEFFERSON CITY - In a straight party line vote, the House Budget Committee Thursday approved a Republican-backed budget plan that would mean $382 million in new cuts for education in 2004.
Democrats, including Gov. Bob Holden, denounced the plan, accusing Republicans of not doing their job.
"They are shirking their responsibility to provide a budget for me to look at and sign or veto," Holden said. However, Holden did not say he would veto the plan and even suggested a way to implement it.
The budget proposal did win support from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. In a statement issued Wednesday, the chamber said the Republican leadership has made "a courageous move to address Missouri state budget problems."
The plan now moves to the House floor for a vote.
If the new budget proposal passes, Missouri would be the only state in the nation using a lump-sum appropriation approach to fund departments, the Associate Press reported.
Under the plan, state funding for next year would be based on the fiscal year 2001 budget, in which the state revenue generated was the same amount the state expects to collect this year.
The plan also grants unprecedented authority to state department heads. In previous years, lawmakers examined each department's budget line by line to determine what programs should be cut. Instead, Republicans are proposing approving a general budget amount for each department. Department heads would be responsible for deciding which programs should be cut.
Democrats criticized the plan, saying elected officials will be losing the right to make budget decisions about individual programs in each department.
"You're going to give all the department heads an open checkbook," said Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia.
But Republicans said they had no choice but to proceed with this lump sum approach, because department heads have been unwilling to work with the House and Senate leadership trying to prioritize state programs. Instead, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway said department heads have only been willing to discuss the governor's budget plan, which relies on almost $700 million in new taxes.
Given these conditions and the state's projected $1 billion budget deficit, Hanaway said Republicans were "looking for an innovation in a difficult time" and that their budget plan is the answer. She added that the Republican plan "gets to balance -- something the governor did not do."
It has been 125 years since the Missouri Legislature approved one sweeping appropriations bill for all the state's departments. The Republican plan would cut the state's budget from 234 pages to a mere 27 pages.
In a compromise with Democrats, House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said he would allow lawmakers to vote for each department budget appropriation separately.
Supporters of the new budget approach say it would provide department heads with greater flexibility to decide where budget cuts should be made and which programs are critical. It would also ensure no new taxes are needed to balance the state's budget.
Opponents of the proposal, however, said it gives too much authority to bureaucrats who are not elected by the public. As a result, lawmakers will not be able to tell constituents whether or not a program will be spared from cuts.
"No one is guaranteed they will be funded one penny," Graham said.