Difficult times, politics and trimming the budget
March 26, 2010

The Missouri Budget
by Missouri Rep. Ed Emery (R-126 including the counties of
Barton, Dade, Jasper and Polk)

"The problem in reducing the budget is that every line item has a friend."--Rep. Mike Dethrow (R-153)

Missouri faces the worst economy since the Great Depression. Projected state revenues are down nearly 14% over the past fiscal year. Our fiscal year 2010 State budget was $23 Billion, but state revenues are neither financing that budget nor promising hope for next year. We are faced with a $500 M to $800 M revenue short fall in FY 2011 and an additional $900 M in FY 2012. Raising taxes has always hurt business, increased unemployment, and delayed economic recovery at both state and federal levels. Your Republican-led legislature is determined to facilitate the fastest possible recovery by rejecting any calls for increased taxes.

Nevertheless, many people in our Missouri have grown accustomed to the various personal assistance programs that proliferate when the economy is growing but ultimately prove to be unsustainable - especially when Missouri can neither print money nor accumulate debt. The customary practice of those either managing state programs or enjoying program benefits is to flood capitol offices with emails asking that their program be funded. We all recognize the need to reduce spending, but it is hard to reach agreement on how to reduce state spending. That makes the task of securing 83 votes for every needed reduction difficult and often haphazard.

On Wednesday, March 24, 2010 your Missouri House perfected and printed a $23.6 billion budget. After several hours of debate some reductions had passed, but many failed to garner the necessary majority approval. Between 200 and 300 million phantom dollars are still in the "perfected" budget. At best these dollars represent federal debt, and at worst imaginary revenue that will not materialize. The amendments that would have sanitized the 2011 budget did not pass. As one appropriations chairman said, "Every line item has a friend," and sometimes politics trumps policy.

The Missouri Constitution mandates that the General Assembly pass a balanced budget and deliver it to the governor by May 7th. There is still hope because the Missouri Senate has pledged to finish the job of balancing the 2011 budget with at least $200 million more future spending reductions. Without these budget reductions we may not have satisfied our constitutional duty for a balanced budget, and funds withholding may become necessary. Late withholdings are especially destructive to education whose expenditures are mandated to be even-flowed throughout the year.

We must keep the budget process moving forward if we are to reach the next level of debate and the next round of reductions. We will continue with our negotiations with the Senate for further reductions so that we can balance our budget, keep our debt low, and set a climate for economic recovery.

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