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15 April 2010

Nodler: A Difficult Budget Year

This week, the full Senate began work on the 13 bills that make up the state’s core budget. As a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I commend the work of my successor, Sen. Rob Mayer. This is a particularly challenging year, and he has worked hard to craft a fiscally responsible budget that will meet Missouri’s most critical needs.

As of March, Missouri’s year-to-date revenue collections have dropped 13 percent. Missouri budget officials expect revenue for the current fiscal year to drop by $700 million compared with last year, the state’s largest revenue drop in history. This is important to keep in mind as we plan for the coming fiscal year. The revenue decline is not a short-term dip in revenues and could continue to affect our state through 2014. Missouri needs long-term, sustainable solutions, and this is our goal as we discuss the budget in the Senate.

This year’s budget process was further complicated by the fact that neither the governor nor the House created balanced budget proposals. The governor’s budget proposal was $500 million out of balance, and he counted on an additional $300 million from a federal budget stabilization extension that the state has yet to receive. When the House created their budget proposal, they only made about $200 million of the half a billion dollars in cuts necessary, still relying on federal money we don’t have.

In order to get the state’s spending plan to a fiscally viable state, tough choices have to be made. We must consider the highest priorities for the state and make sure we are meeting our most critical spending obligations. The grim truth is that cuts will take place in every area of state government, which is why we have worked hard this year to examine state government closely and find ways to streamline the system.

One particular funding issue that has created a lot of discussion both within and outside the Legislature is Career Ladder. The funding has been under scrutiny because the program is appropriated retroactively, meaning the funding for the 2009-10 school year is under consideration during the current legislative session. On the floor of the Senate, we restored the funding and I voted to support it, as I have always supported Career Ladder funding. However, the continued practice of funding the program in arrears caused a near disaster for teachers this year. In order for the program to survive, it must be funded as a regular appropriation, or it will be a train wreck for teachers in the future.

The General Assembly’s constitutional deadline for completion of the state operating budget this year is May 7th. With the full Senate’s initial work completed, the bills will move through the conference committee process and must receive a final vote in the House and Senate before moving to the governor’s desk. Even though this has been a difficult budget year, my colleagues and I will continue to be diligent throughout the rest of the budget process — making sure a balanced spending plan reached the governor’s desk for his signature.

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