JEFFERSON CITY -- For most Missourians, the first of July brings plans and preparation to celebrate Independence Day -- one of America's biggest holidays. For all Missourians -- and usually with much less fanfare and fireworks -- July 1 also brings the beginning of a new state fiscal year and the start of a $27.4 billion spending plan that bankrolls every service and expenditure the state will make in the next 12 months.
Technically, July 1 of this year began the Missouri Fiscal Year 2017. The budget lawmakers approved -- after vetoes by the governor -- totaled $27,449,347,755. This total included $9,646,896,598 in General Revenue, $9,099,330,232 in federal funds and $8,703,120,925 in other funds.
For Missouri, with a population of slightly more than 6 million, that budget package works out to about $4,500 per person. And, as the Show-Me State, it should come as no surprise that the skepticism of Missourians is evident in the careful safeguards the people have established to assure responsible management of the state's budget and finances.
How important is Missouri's state budget? Technically, its the only thing the Missouri General Assembly is required to do, by law. And, in Missouri, not a single penny can be spent -- regardless of the source of the revenue -- unless that expenditure is approved by the General Assembly through the appropriations process.
Occasionally, a press release may brag about lawmakers "meeting their constitutional responsibility" to balance the budget. There is no such constitutional requirement. What the press release probably refers to is passing a budget that matches the revenue estimates for the next year. Lawmakers can -- and in the past have -- appropriated more than they really expect the state to receive in revenue. Then, political hay was made when the governor of another party was forced to withhold funds when revenues fell short.
Formulating a budget is both art and science -- and it is a moving target based on estimates of revenue collections many months into the future.
While lawmakers can appropriate whatever they wish, the governor -- through the Office of Administration, which authorized the allotments and the State Treasurer's office, which actually makes the fund disbursements -- cannot release money if the revenues have not been received or if the disbursement was not authorized in the budget.
Anyone wishing to see this year's state budget can do so on the Office of Administration website. And, anyone can check every monthly fund balance of the state on the State Treasurer's web site. There are many, ranging from the Budget Reserve Fund, (fund 0100) which as of May 31 had $585,467,593.22 to the Pansy Johnson Gardens Trust (fund 0963) which had $820,874.46 in a trust established in 1985 by Pansy Johnson-Travis to earn interest for 100 years, then be used to establish a botanical garden in Maries County.
There's also some clever use of funds, such as the state's Abandoned Funds (fund 0863), which had $35,532,314.30 on May 31. These funds have been "abandoned" in bank accounts, safe deposit boxes or insurance policies. They belong to owners who can't be located. The fund are used in the General Revenue fund, but never actually escheat the the state. This allows the funds to be used until the owners of the property can be found. The state treasurer has staff looking for these owners. You can check to see if you have any money in this fund at the treasurer's website.
The operating budget, by the way, takes up 13 different bills and is in effect for one year. The rest of the budget is for capital improvements and is a two-year budget. And, even before this year's budget took effect, the governor engaged in the annual withholding -- typically 3 percent -- of certain agencies until the end of this fiscal year, to ensure that Missouri's finance are a solid as money in the bank. Literally.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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