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House passes $18.6 billion budget

April 07, 2004
By: Alex Yalen, Sara Bondioli and Gaurav Ghose
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1001, HB 1002, HB 1003, HB 1004, HB 1005, HB 1006, HB 1007, HB 1008, HB 1009, HB 1010, HB 1011, HB 1012

JEFFERSON CITY -- The House passed an $18.6 billion budget Wednesday that provides a bigger increase for education than the governor recommended -- without tax increases.

The budget was passed on the same day that the Revenue Department released numbers showing that state revenue collections are up significantly.

That's important because the Republican-sponsored plan is heavily reliant on increased economic activity -- an assumption that State Budget Directior Linda Luebbering, a Gov. Bob Holden appointee, said could be workable.

She cautioned, though, that the April 15 tax deadline will be the real test for Missouri's financial health.

Earlier in the year, the House, Senate and governor agreed the state should expect about $6.4 billion in revenue, but the new House budget plan utilizes about $7 billion.

The March revenue figures show state general revenue collections are up 7.5 percent higher than last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2003.

It won't be until mid-April, however, that the House, Senate, and the governor's office will be able to review the numbers, meet and revise their revenue estimates, said Luebbering.

"It's quite possible we could have a higher or a lower number," she said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair John Russell, R-Lebanon, will see the budget next. He said he did not think the House approach, which raises public education spending but leaves both costs and revenue projections in place, would likely be a viable solution.

"I'm not convinced that you can do nearly everything without addressing additional revenue or making more cuts," he said.

Russell expressed concern that the House plan would force cuts into mental health and other social services in order to fund education.

HOUSE BUDGET FOCUSES ON EDUCATION

Under the House plan, Missouri K-12 education would see its funding returned to 2004 levels. That represents one of the few increases in the budget.

The total amount is an increase of more than $100 million over the final FY 2004 number, including the withholding, but is still $49 million lower than FY 2003. Democrats spent considerable time in debate Tuesday making that point clear.

"The bottom line is that we are $49 million short, and it is not the way to go," said Rep. John Burnett, D-Kansas City.

The K-12 budget discussion came at the same time as 54 school districts approved property tax increases Tuesday. The political importance of the move was unclear. But Democrats maintained Wednesday that, despite the local tax increases, more revenue would still be necessary to fund their schools.

"We should be ashamed that we could not take care of our funding responsiblities, and we passed it off to the local districts instead," said House Minority Leader Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge.

House Republicans touted their ability to craft a plan that increases funding for schools without needing a general tax increase, as Democrats and some Republicans have proposed.

Meanwhile, higher education would not fare as well under the proposed House plan. This would represent the third consecutive year the state has taken money out of higher education.

The University of Missouri system specifically has lost $158 million in state funding, from both budget cuts and the governor's withholdings, over the past three years. The governor is currently withholding $4.8 million from the UM system.

The UM system Board of Curators, reacting to what they thought would be reduced funding levels from the state, decided last week to raise tuition levels 7.5 percent, and allow the University of Missouri-Columbia campus to add surcharges on certain specific classes.

The action brought vocal criticism from House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who accused the UM system of profiteering.

"I think these universities are the mean-spirited ones," he said. "They are making more money by blinking these students in higher tuitions."