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Lobbyist Money Help  

Budget Cuts Proposed

January 22, 2002
By: Nicholas Rummell
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Two days before the governor unveils his budget proposal on Wednesday, a Republican-assembled panel made suggestions to tighten the government's wallet.

The panel -- composed of CPAs and private sector analysts -- stated that the concept of core programs should be eliminated, and a reevaluation of fiscal spending should be done.

"We discussed whether government should be run like a business, and we believe, in large part, it should," said James Thomas, a tax and business lawyer on the panel.

Thomas also commented that the review of core programs is currently casual, and a more light needs to be shone on where money goes.

To more thoroughly evaluate spending, the panel suggested creating a new budget review office to supplement the already existing legislative oversight committee and appropriations process.

The proposed budget review office also would help existing committees and legislators to be more informed about the process, as well as offer advice on where cuts could be made.

Legislators have limited opportunity to change the budget, said House Minority Leader Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County. Hanaway compiled the panel.

"This would enhance the level of responsibility borne by legislators," she said.

Core programs are those whose funding carries over from one year to the next, and receive at least a base amount of funding.

Evaluation of core program spending, said the panel, requires a more intensive review.

Another process the panel recommended involves projections of the state's revenue collections, which was criticized by the panel as being inaccurate.

During the late 1990s, General Revenue was projected to be low, while tax collections were higher than expected.

For the past two fiscal years, however, revenue has been projected higher than collected taxes. Because of this, said Thomas, spending estimates have been higher than what the state could afford.

A more conservative revenue estimate, the panel concluded, would avoid the need for cuts and encourage saving.

"We are counting our chickens before they hatch," he said, suggesting that a more modest projection should be the standard.

However, Budget and Planning Director Brian Long said that the estimates are middle of the road, and it is hard to keep up with the economy.

"The way the estimates are made haven't changed." said Long. "What's happening is the economy is changing rapidly, and it's impossible to forecast turns in the road."

According to Hanaway, Long and other key government experts would be invited to add suggestions and give advice to the panel.

Hanaway said that she will introduce a bill to create the proposed budget review board.

Thomas asserted that the panel's suggested budget reforms are not attempts to take anything away from the governor's budget outline Wednesday.