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Lobbyist Money Help  

Blunt pushes foundation formula proposal costing almost $1B

May 03, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The stalled proposal to change the formula used distribute state money to local schools received a governor-sized push, but in attracting wayward suburban lawmakers, the force of the kick has made some supporters uneasy.

Gov. Matt Blunt threw his weight behind a proposal costing almost $1 billion spread over seven years. Blunt, who had limited his comments to support for reshaping the formula, sided with suburban and urban legislators in a fight over a multiplier for wage differences.

"We need to create a new formula in this building so we don't allow unelected judges to impose a formula on our state and so that we don't permit unelected judges to impose a tax increase," Blunt said.

The Special House Committee on Education Funding spent much of last week discussing the proposal defeating a proposal to send it to the House floor on Thursday. Chairman Brian Baker, R-Belton, said the committee would reconsider the initial vote Wednesday.

"If I didn't believe we could get this out, I wouldn't do it," he said.

Yet, the additional cost and the prolonged implementation time drew concerns from some Republicans who had voted for the initial bill.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said he believed Blunt's idea prompted some questions about the wisdom of a fiscal policy that would require annual budget increases exceeding $130 million for the next seven years.

"We need to make this something people can come out and accept, and at the same time, make sure it's affordable," he said. "And the second part of is just as important, if not more so, than the first part."

Freshman Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Springfield, voted against the initial proposal but said a discussion with Blunt over the weekend plus the additional time spent examining some of the more controversial aspects had alleviated his concerns.

With estimated costs ballooning, a funding mechanism has grown into a significant challenge, threatening a resolution before the end of next week.

Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, has said he would support eliminating casino loss limits and increasing gross receipts taxes, which when combined with additional tax revenues from economic growth would fund the formula.

Denison said, in addition to Shields' plan, he would also support an increase to cigarette taxes.

"Although I'm a Republican and am not supposed to say this, I think we better go look at other options and that we better do it now."

But the proposal has drawn opposition from Blunt and many Republicans in the legislature.

"We can fund the formula without repealing the loss limit, without imposing an additional tax on gambling," Blunt said.

Nonetheless, the prospect of a significant amount of additional revenues absorbed into one budget item, prompted some Republicans on the committee to shift in favor of Shields' plan.

Should the legislature fail to pass a funding plan by its May 13 adjournment, Blunt said he would call a special session to pass a revised formula. Baker said despite the tight deadline he felt there was time to move the formula.

"It's the governor's prerogative to call for a special session, but we don't want a special session; my wife doesn't want a special session," he said.

Blunt's plan would also spread over three years a multiplier for wage differences across the state.

The multiplier was the subject of a battle, which prompted five Republicans to defect in committee last week and stall the bill. The House version of the factor would divide the state into a variety of regions, calculate the average wage in that reason and appropriate additional money to districts in areas with a higher wage than the state average. The difference to be covered under the modifier, however, was limited at 10 percent. Blunt, suburban Republicans on the House committee and the Senate support increasing this cap to 15 percent.

While Blunt's plan addresses many of the concerns of suburban and urban legislators, support from rural legislators, many of whom voted for the initial plan, waned.

Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, said that while a $15 million grant program for districts with less than 300 students would help, there was little for districts ineligible for the grants that still needed to compete with suburban districts receiving a boost from the wage multiplier.

"The biggest problem is that it's obviously a step toward inequity in the formula," he said. "We're supposed to be writing a formula that is more equitable and this is a step in the wrong direction."

Democrats were united in their opposition to the proposal, citing a need for another year of analysis.