Accelify Blog

Senate Gets Its Shot at Missouri Budget (MO)

April 12, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY • While disputes over spending federal money have captured headlines, the Missouri Legislature has so far faced little difficulty in drafting the state’s spending plan.

But that could change this week when a Senate panel decides on its changes to the budget, clearing way for debate by the full chamber. On the table will be funding for K-12 and higher education, school transportation and the arts, among other items.

The House already has passed its version of the budget with relative ease and bipartisan approval.

That fiscal 2012 spending plan of more than $23 billion would cut funding to colleges and universities by 7 percent, while devoting less money to school transportation and providing no increases for elementary and secondary schools. In addition, it would reduce the state lottery’s advertising budget, cut funds for statewide officials and limit the public money that can be used for the governor’s travel.

Ultimately, those cuts do not vary drastically from those proposed by the governor earlier this year for the budget that will take effect July 1.

The Legislature each year must determine how much of the general revenue, the state’s largest pot of money, should be spent. The House version of the budget would cut general revenue spending by more than $6 million from the governor’s proposal.

Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who led the House budget negotiations, touted the proposal as the best possible with the state’s limited money.

“This was the first budget that wasn’t built substantially on imagined money,” he said last week.

Overall, House Democrats were receptive to the spending plan. Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, worked clos ely with Silvey on the House Budget Committee, and even made unannounced visits with him to state departments earlier this year while researching where to make cuts.

Though Lampe regretted some of the cuts, she said the budget was “the best we could do under the circumstances.” At the conclusion of the final budget vote, Lampe and Silvey met in the middle, literally, to shake hands at the rear of the House chamber.

The result of such bipartisan cooperation was a budget proposal that flew through the House with scarcely a hiccup, though it could still face some hurdles in the Senate.

HIGHER EDUCATION

College and university leaders had anticipated funding cuts with a sense of mounting dread. That budget line could be a point of contention in the Senate. The appropriations chair, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, represents a district that includes the University of Missouri.

As colleges and universities grapple with those cuts, students will be facing reductions to some of the state’s largest scholarship programs. Funding for the Access Missouri Scholarship program, which is distributed based on financial need, would decrease by $18 million next year under the House plan, but that number pales in comparison with the $48 million cut initially floated by the governor.

Meanwhile, the A+ Scholarship program would receive $7 million more next year under the House plan, which would still cut the governor’s proposed expansion of the program by $1 million.

Transportation to K-12 schools would be cut drastically from its funding levels this year under the proposed House budget plan. Instead of allocating more than $152 million for buses and other transportation to elementary and secondary schools statewide, the state would spend just under $100 million.

Silvey said that reduction is the budget decision that would be the “most pa inful across the state.” The issue could draw debate in the Senate, and some of the school transportation funding could be restored.

The House kept the overall funding level for elementary and secondary schools at about $3 billion. That amount is more than $250 million below the number recommended by the Foundation Formula, a recipe set i