Work on state budget continues


For the Call

Final action on budget bills is expected this week by the Missouri House and Senate as a special legislative session called by Gov. Bob Holden continues.

Holden called the legislators into special session last week to address four budget bills that he vetoed. He contends that the budget approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is $367 million in the red. Republicans disagree, noting that the Legislature slashed $354 million from the governor’s spending recommendations.

The first week of the special session began contentious and ended in a rancorous manner. Before adjourning June 5, the House, primarily along party lines, approved and sent to the Senate budget bills that increased funding for elementary and secondary education by $72 million and funding for higher education by $14 million more than the budgets previously approved. Medicaid services would be restored to 13,000 individuals who would have lost them under the budget that was approved during the regular session.

The House adjourned until today — June 12. Earlier this week, the Senate Appropriation Committee began reviewing and hearing testimony on the new House budget bills.

Final action by the House and Senate is expected this week.

Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, told the Call last week that he believes the governor is capable of vetoing the revised budget and “shutting down” state government on July 1. July 1 is the beginning of the new fiscal year and the date on which the new budget would become effective.

This, of course, assumes that the Senate will side with the House in not proposing new tax increases.

Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton, told the Call earlier that the Senate is the key. He believes that the final budget outcome will depend on whether the Senate sides with the House or moves toward the governor’s position.

The governor addressed the General Assembly on June 5 and asked that legislators approve tax increases on smokers, gaming casinos and the very wealthy, and eliminate certain tax breaks rather than cut state programs and staff.

But Lembke said there were 12,000 Missourians from throughout the state who went to Jefferson City June 12 to vigorously opposed the idea of any tax in-crease.

Lembke told the Call that he opposed any tax increases, as did Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood. Avery explained in a press release that the “tax loopholes” that the governor wishes to close will eliminate accelerated depreciation for small businesses and decouple Missouri from many of the federal tax cuts.

“These ideas would not only be penalizing our taxpayers by not allowing them to share in many of the federal tax reductions, but I believe we would also be pushing business out of our state,” Avery said.

Avery pointed out that last year voters had defeated three tax proposals — the wireless 911 tax, the transportation tax and the cigarette tax.

Lembke praised the efforts of U.S. Sens. Christopher Bond and Jim Talent in obtaining about $400 million for the state of Missouri through President Bush’s economic stimulus package.

“A better budget was crafted because of their efforts, which will provide more money for education, health services and social services,” Lembke said.

Rep. Patricia “Pat” Yaeger, D-Lemay, said in a news release that the House leadership — Rep. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, the Majority Floor Leader — informed House members that the first three days were to be devoted to technical matters and that only those legislators who serve on the budget committee had to be in Jefferson City.

The cost to taxpayers would be about $100,000 a week for all legislators to attend the special session, according to Yaeger.

But, in a second memo from Crowell to Republicans, they were asked, according to Yaeger, to be present all week.

In the memo dated May 29, Republicans were told: “The House calendar I sent out last Wednesday [May 28] only indicates that there will be no floor votes until Thursday. We will be in session Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and possibly Friday. Even though we won’t have floor votes until Thursday, you can note your presence with the clerk in order to receive your per diem and mileage for the week.”

“Each House member would receive $75.20 a day if they came, even though they might not be needed for the first three days of the special session,” according to Yaeger.

Lembke told the Call that he had suggested to leadership that it would be beneficial to be present for the budget hearings to fully understand the reasoning and concern of everyone affected.

“My request to be present early in the week may have precipitated Jason’s second memo,” he said.

In Lembke’s opinion, the Democratic leadership could have made the same suggestion to its membership.

“I sat in on committee meetings, from 8 a.m. to evening, listening to the testimony of school district officials, bureaucrats and members of the public, as well as hearing the questions asked by budget committee members and the responses. My constituents expect me to be informed when I vote and this input was necessary,” Lembke told the Call.