JEFFERSON CITY - Another month of unexpectedly high revenue collections leads to another round of Republican criticism that Gov. Bob Holden should release education withholdings.
House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said he expects the governor won't release the money until May, if at all, to allow passage of local tax levies for education planned for April ballots. Voters are less likely to approve a tax increase after additional funds have just been released, Bearden said.
Numbers released by the Department of Revenue Friday show an 8.2 percent increase in revenue collections over last year at this time, seven months into the fiscal year.
Bearden and other Republicans have been calling for Holden to release the additional $118 million of lower education money the legislature appropriated last year. The governor is also withholding $12 million of higher education money.
Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the governor's decision to continue withholding funds has no connection to the April ballot. She repeated earlier statements that the governor will release the money "if and when it's fiscally responsible to do so."
Some schools have scheduled local tax levies for the April ballot, but the Department of Education is still compiling information as to how many are planned.
The tax levies are placed on the ballot for a variety of reasons, said Gerri Ogle, associate commissioner with DESE. The main reason is to increase state funding for school districts in future years.
"As the [local] tax rate increases their share of the pie gets a little bigger," Ogle said.
The administration has said it expects revenues to decrease during February and March as Missourians collect tax refunds. Luebbering has said this decrease could offset the increases experienced in the first seven months of the fiscal year.
Luebbering said January numbers, showing a 9.6 percent increase over January 2003, were stronger than the administration anticipated, especially in the area of sales tax.
The administration is examining whether legislation passed last year contributed to increases in January income tax numbers. A measure that forced big businesses to pay income taxes electronically may have pushed payment of those taxes from February into January, said Luebbering.
Bearden said he expects revenue for fiscal year 2004 to exceed the estimates used for the budget. Revenue numbers are currently three percentage points higher than the estimate on which the legislative budget was based.
"We're remaining on track to fund our budget," Bearden said.