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Budget plan under debate in House

April 06, 2004
By: Alex Yalen and Gaurav Ghose
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1002, HB 1003

JEFFERSON CITY -- April 15 will be an especially key date for a House budget plan currently under consideration.

Earlier in the year, the House, Senate and Gov. Bob Holden agreed the state should expect about $6.4 billion in revenue, but the new House budget plan utilizes about $7 billion in revenue.

But the difference between the two won't be known until the mid-April deadline, said State Budget Director Linda Luebbering. She did not rule out the Republican figures outright, saying there was not enough information at this point.

"It is quite possible that we could have a higher or a lower number," she said.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon, said he did not think the House approach, which raised public education spending while leaving both costs and revenue projections in place, would likely solve the problem.

"I'm not convinced that you can do nearly everything without addressing additional revenue or making more cuts," he said.

Russell expressed concern that the House plan would force cuts into mental health and other social services in order to fund education.

Under the House plan, Missouri K-12 education would see its funding returned to 2004 levels. That represents one of the few increases in the budget.

The total amount, at $49 million, represents an increase from the FY 2004 budget post-withholding, but remains lower than FY 2003. Democrats spent considerable time in debate Tuesday making that point clear.

"The bottom line is that we are $49 million short, and it is not the way to go," said Rep. John Burnett, D-Kansas City.

The K-12 budget discussion came at the same time as 114 public school districts across the state were asking voters to raise local property tax levies to better fund their schools.

"They (the school districts) don't think they got enough money to educate their children," Burnett said.

But the big accomplishment for the House Republicans was the proposal of a plan increasing funding for schools without needing a general tax increase, as Democrats and some Republicans have proposed.

Meanwhile, higher education would not fare as well under the proposed House plan representing the third consecutive year the state has withheld money from higher education, now totalling $158 million.

The University of Missouri system Board of Curators, reacting to what they thought would be reduced funding levels from the state, decided last week to raise tuition levels 7.5 percent, and allow the University of Missouri-Columbia campus to add surcharges on certain specific classes.

The action brought vocal criticism from House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who accused the UM system of profiteering.

"I think these universities are the mean-spirited ones," he said. "They are making more money by blinking these students in higher tuitions."