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Seasoned senators work for budget compromise -- even when that means breaking party lines

March 15, 2004
By: Sara Bondioli
State Capital Bureau
Links: An info-box on Russell and Goode.

JEFFERSON CITY -- When the two budget leaders in Missouri's Senate first came to the legislature decades ago, they were far apart -- both geographically and philosphically.

Now, the two longest-serving members of Missouri legislature are heralded by colleagues and lobbyists as models for bi-partisan cooperation -- as well as targets of private criticism within their own parties.

But after this year, term limits will drive out Republican John Russell and Democrat Wayne Goode.

While the two both worked in business management prior to and during their legislative careers, their geographic backgrounds are quite different.

Russell, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, represents rural Lebanon in the Lake of the Ozarks region. Goode, who chaired the committee before Republicans captured control of the Senate, represents the St. Louis metropolitan area district that covers the city of Normandy.

These two men work together well because they realize the importance of the appropriations process -- the only constitutional obligation the legislature has, said Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles County.

"I think that they both respect that and go at it with a real business-like attitude that they have a job to do and sometimes that means crossing political lines, sometimes I think that even means perhaps going against their own traditional beliefs -- about government, the size of government, the scope and growth, and things like that -- in order to get the job done," he said.

The legislative histories of Russell and Goode are entwined. The two were first elected to the House in 1962. Russell left for the Senate in 1977, and Goode came to the Senate in 1985.

The two serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Goode chaired the committee from 1997 until 2002, when the Republicans gained control of the Senate and Russell took over as chair. Both will end their state Senate careers after this session, when term limits will prevent them from running again.

And both broke from the stances of their respective parties in last year's budget process. Despite the common Republican legislative stance that the budget problem could be solved through cuts and no new taxes, Russell said new revenue was necessary to balance the budget.

Last year, Russell sponsored a couple of bills that would have boosted business taxes.

On the other side, Goode has been just as heretical to his Democratic Party's stance on the Republican's no-tax-increase budget.

In 2003, Goode joined Republican leaders to urge passage of the legislature's version of the budget that had been attacked by Democratic legislative leaders and the governor.

He was the only Democrat in the legislature to consistently vote in support of the budget.

Goode put simply the approach he and Russell take to the budget: "We're willing to work to pass a budget that is generally within the realm of being balanced, and we're willing to look for revenue sources when necessary."

Russell said he doesn't mind being seen as a moderating force on the budget.

"Those people who think it's something else, other than moderating, don't understand the budget process and probably have had limited experience in budget or appropriation matters," he said.

Russell acknowledges his pro-tax position has ruffled a few feathers within his own party.

"Some of them would probably like to cast me out," he added with a laugh.

Russell said he has felt that some Republicans are upset with him for supporting tax increases, but that doesn't bother him. If they understood the process more, they would likely have similar views, he said.

As legislators spend more years in the Capitol, they tend to see the "broader picture" of the budget, Russell said.

Russell said people often offer him suggestions on how to deal with the budget by comparing it to a business because they don't realize the differences between a business budget and the state's budget.

"It's hard to understand that almost half of the General Revenue receipts of the state are already committed, almost as an entitlement, and therefore it doesn't give the Appropriations Committee, or the appropriations process, much of an opportunity to address the budget as some people would prefer to see us address it," he said.

After thinking about a recent suggestion from a small businessman, Russell calculated that state operations were about 15,000 times larger than the business's. People have difficulty understanding the complexities of a budget that size, he said.

When Russell was elected to the legislature 42 years ago, the state's budget amounted to just $2 billion -- for two years, he said. Since then he has seen government grow as new programs have developed.

The state's fiscal year 2004 budget totals $19 billion.

Lobbyist Jim Moody, former Gov. John Ashcroft's state budget director, said the budget process has gotten more complicated as government has grown. He cited Medicaid as an example of one program that has mushroomed in size since Russell and Goode entered the legislature.

Changes in the House Budget Committee have contributed to partisanship, advocacy and loss of oversight of some budgets in the House budget process, as well as to battles between the House and Senate, Goode said. He served as the last House Appropriations Committee chair.

In 1980, six separate committees were established for different parts of the budget.

"What that has caused, in a fairly short period of time, is that the advocates for these particular departments and programs are being placed on the budget committees where they protect certain departments or programs," Goode said.

Because committee members felt strong ties to their particular budget area, they would not want to give up money or programs when the House looked at the overall budget.

"Of course, when we got the budget [in the Senate] we didn't look at it that way," Goode said. "We looked at it as a budget estimate of so many dollars, you have these programs, you try to balance them overall."

Russell said the increase of new House members, who don't have any experience working with the budget, have widened the gap between the House and Senate budgets.

"Because of that, they don't understand why we are where we are on several budget issues," he said.

In the end, Goode said, last session's budget wasn't in balance. However, Goode said he urged his colleagues to pass the budget -- the best he believed they would get -- in hopes of avoiding a special session.

Goode's voice of support for the budget in the Senate did not lead Democratic Party members to reject him, he said.

"I made my position known over the years, so I wasn't concerned about that," he said.

Because Russell and Goode approach the appropriations process with a business attitude of getting the job done, they were able to break party lines, Gross said.

"Anytime you do something a little different from the mainstream, you're subject to criticism," he said. "Everybody up here has a job to do ... They needed to get the job done, they were willing to take on that risk, and I think they handled it very well."

Goode said the budget should be a relatively nonpartisan issue, but some legislators have made it more partisan in their discussions of revenue and taxes.

Gross, now in his fourth year on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Russell and Goode share similar views of the budgeting process.

"I think they work together so well because both of them look at the appropriations process ... as not a purely political process," he said.

Russell said he understands that legislators feel the need to limit taxes, but more of them should look at the big picture and vote based on what is needed.

"I think more of them should exercise some independence instead of just going along and saying, 'That's the way it's gonna be,'" he said.

Whether the appropriations process will grow more partisan next year when Russell and Goode are gone depends partially on the state of the budget, Russell said. Increases in state revenue and legislators with another year of experience should make the process easier, he said.

Goode said the Senate has become more partisan over the last 10 years and term limits will likely cause a move toward more partisanship like that found in the House. However, some legislators will work to combat partisanship, he said.

When Russell and Goode leave, the legislature will lose more than 80 years of legislative experience.

"Decades of institutional knowledge are going out the door," Moody said.

Gross said the Senate Appropriations Committee will have to rely on its members and staff more, since it will lose the chairmen that members have relied on for budget knowledge in the past.

"It's like losing a good friend ... there's a void there for awhile, and until you fill that void, you have to adapt, and we will adapt," he said.