JEFFERSON CITY - One day after cutting $200 million from Gov. Bob Holden's budget for Missouri schools, the state's Senate continued to ignore Holden's veto threat by passing an additional $100 million in cuts to the state's colleges, prison system, mental health care, and social services.
By 2-1 margins the Senate on Wednesday rejected amendments offered by Democratic senators to restore funding for a number of programs, including $3.6 million for women's healthcare and $8.2 million in new assistance to needy parents who had been forced to quit their jobs because of funding cuts to child care.
Also among the cuts was $10 million to open the new Jefferson City Correctional Center, which has already been built and stands empty just outside the state's capital. Unless the money is restored, inmates in the 167-year-old Missouri State Penitentiary near downtown Jefferson City will have to remain there for at least another year before being moved to the new facility.
Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, called the Republican proposed cuts to family planning "mean and cynical", and said that the cuts would backfire as an attempt to reduce the number of abortions in Missouri, as less counseling services would actually result in more abortions. She also cited data from the state budget office showing that the cuts would jeopardize health care for nearly 60,000 women statewide.
"This shows immense disdain for working poor women," Bray said.
But Republicans showed little willingness to engage in debates on the merits of cuts that had already been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, said that while many of the cuts were painful, he couldn't vote to restore funding for individual programs as it would then be difficult to hold the line on restoring all the funding.
"We voted no against the blind and handicap," Foster said with an air of resignation. "We voted no against everything we could."
With Wednesday's votes, the Senate is nearing completion on passage of a budget that would cut a total of $200 million in general funds from the governor's recommendation. The Senate's budget is dependent on raising an additional $200 million in new taxes and revenues for the next fiscal year. If it is unable to agree on how to raise that money, the state's schools, colleges, and social services would be hit with additional deep cuts.
Despite heated rhetoric on both sides of the aisle over the past month, the difference between Republicans in the legislature and Democratic Gov. Bob Holden amounts to just over one percent of the state's total expenditures, including federal aid to the state.
If the Senate passes the remainder of the budget this week, it will ECP then go to conference with leaders in the Republican controlled House to iron out differences in their two budget plans. Republicans in the House passed a budget that cuts $100 million more than their counterparts in the Senate. The House plan also distributes cuts more evenly among state agencies, while the Senate's plan relies heavily on cuts to schools and colleges.
With moderate Democrats such as Sen. Wayne Goode of St. Louis County and Sen. James Mathewson of Sedalia voting with Republicans on several budget bills, it is evident that Holden does not have the support of his entire party. Holden's budget plan is based on nearly $700 million in tax increases, which would require the approval of Missouri's voters. Holden's tax proposals have made little headway in the Republican controlled legislature.