Holden, General Assembly have yet to reach agreement on budget

As the new fiscal year commencing July 1 rapidly approaches, the Republican-controlled Missouri General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Bob Holden have yet to reach agreement on the state budget.

Holden contends that more money is needed to balance the budget and avoid cuts to education and social services.

The governor has asked the Legislature to approve tax increases on smokers, gaming casinos and the very wealthy, and eliminate certain tax breaks.

A tax plan introduced in the Senate last week would have raised the cigarette tax to 72 cents from 17 cents, increased the tax on gaming casinos’ gross receipts to 25 percent from 20 percent, eliminated certain corporate tax breaks, imposed a 5 percent surcharge on incomes more than $200,000, and repealed the $500 loss limit for casino gamblers.

However, the tax plan failed.

This week the House and Senate are working out the final details of the budget bills that were vetoed by the governor. In lieu of increasing taxes, the General Assembly proposes to cut expenditures, reduce the number of state employees and utilize the approximately $400 million the state will receive through President George Bush’s economic stimulus package to provide additional funding for social services and education.

Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, told the Call that the use of the federal money would permit the state to fund education this coming fiscal year at its current level. Further, the proposed cuts in state bureaucracy would provide funding for services to the state’s most vulnerable citizens, such as the mentally retarded and developmentally disabled, Bivins added.

However, without corresponding revenue enhancement measures, the budget cuts may not be acceptable to Holden. At least one local representative, Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, believes that the governor is capable of again vetoing the budget and “shutting down” state government on July 1.

Another local representative, Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, believes the General Assembly does not have a budget but rather a fiasco.

“The governor called us back to shore up a budget full of damaging cuts that gutted education and yanked the safety net out from under the working poor and disabled,” she stated in a news release. “But what the Republican leadership did was fill a couple of budget gaps with non-existent funny money, and then turned around and took an even bigger chunk out of budgets designed to help those who need it the most,” she said in a news release.

The Republican House plan would eliminate more than 500 state employees, including those who investigate reports of abuse and neglect, inspectors for health care facilities, and those who provide services to the elderly and disabled, according to Schoe-mehl. She contends that the budget still is more than $240 million out of balance.

“I could not, in good conscience vote for a budget that will result in the loss of 3,400 teachers in our state, and will cut services to our children and tens of thousands of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens,” Schoemehl said in her news release.

She supports Holden’s recommendation that the General Assembly approve a tax increase ballot issue to permit the people of Missouri to decide whether they support education and quality health care or the interests of business and the gaming industry.

Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, is opposed to sending tax increase proposals to voters, pointing out in a previous news release that voters last year defeated three tax proposals — a wireless 911 tax, a transportation tax and a cigarette tax.

This fact also was noted by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry in a news release.

“Missourians have shown three times in less than a year that they do not want to raise taxes for any reason, and certainly not to cover the state’s inability to budget within its means,” stated Daniel Mehan, chamber president and chief executive officer.