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Lobbyist Money Help  

Education loses in Senate committee reductions

April 17, 2003
By: Heather J. Carlson
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Education takes the brunt of budget cuts as passed Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The committee recommended slicing a combined $361 million from education to help solve the state's 2004 budget woes.

And if lawmakers do not agree to a Senate leadership revenue-enhancement plan, education's cuts would rise to $426 million below the governor's recommendation.

The University of Missouri System's share of those budget cuts would be approximately $44 million.

Without the $200 million from the revenue-increase package Senate leaders will detail Tuesday, the Education Department's total budget would be cut by 13 percent, while Higher Education would lose an estimated 10.5 percent of its total budget.

Several other departments would also take a financial hit as part of the budget proposal including:

- $31 million from the Social Services Department

- $23 million from the Mental Health Department

- $20 million from the Corrections Department

The proposal now heads to the Senate floor for a final vote. Once a budget is approved, a joint House and Senate committee will iron out any differences.

Senate Appropriations Chairman John Russell, R-Lebanon, said the committee did its best to limit cuts while trying to balance the budget.

"I think it's a pretty fair budget considering all the state services that are supported by tax revenue," Russell said. "I think it's more than adequate."

But not all lawmakers agreed.

Democrats on the committee, with the exception of St. Louis County Sen. Wayne Goode, voted against the major budget bills. Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis City, said the proposed budget does not meet the needs of Missourians.

"I think the cuts were absolutely too drastic in most of the budgets," Dougherty said. "I think the Senate committee should have sent to the floor for full debate a package of bills that present the real needs that we see out there."

By passing a plan that makes significant cuts to education and social service programs, Dougherty said it raised the possibility that the governor will veto the budget.

The Republican leadership is looking at ways to raise an additional $200 million in revenue, which could be added back into some departments' budgets. Republicans say the extra money would come from eliminating the gambling loss limit, ending some corporate tax breaks and allowing the state to claim abandoned bank accounts sooner.

Of that $200 million in new revenue, $100 million would be restored to K-12 education and $35 million to higher education. The remaining $65 million would mainly go toward mental health and social service programs.

But some lawmakers think legislators need to consider other revenue options, including raising taxes.

"I wish that they would take a look at the impact of the decision to continue cutting," said Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. "This is not the best idea for the state."

Fellow Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, agreed with Graham, saying that the university has been unfairly targeted for cuts in recent years.

"I think that higher education has already taken a disproportionate share of the cuts," she said. "Any further cuts to higher education I think jeopardizes the access of students because of the need to raise tuition."

With or without additional revenue, UM lobbyist Jim Snider said the cuts will be tough for the university to take.

"When all the dust settles, the reduction is still significant," Snider said. "It is going to have a dramatic impact on the university."