Debate on how best to spend more than $22 billion on state programs and services has begun in the House.

"This is why we are here," House Minority Floor Leader Paul LeVota tells colleagues during the opening of House floor debate, "to figure out how we are going to spend the taxpayers’ money."

LeVota is critical of the spending plan proposed by Republican Governor Blunt and mostly endorsed by the Republican leadership of the House.

"We need to ask why it’s the largest budget in Missouri history and the basic needs of the state are not going to be met," says LeVota.

LeVota complains that not enough money is being spent on education, not enough invested in economic development and that the Medicaid cuts of 2005 haven’t been restored.

House Budget Committee Chairman, Rep. Allen Icet (R-Wildwood), objects to LeVota’s characterization. He points to successive years of increased funding of public schools.

"We are in, I believe, the third year of the phase in for education," Icet responds from the House floor.

Republicans have approved a new spending plan for education, but it is being phased in over a seven year period. Icet says the budget approved by his committee increases spending on public schools by $121 million. He also defends the budget as providing healthy increases in state spending while casting a prudent eye on the economy.

House budget writers, concerned about the downturn in the nation’s economy, scaled back the governor’s proposal. Blunt proposed a budget just shy of $23 billion. The House Budget Committee has submitted a spending blueprint totaling $22.4 billion.

Debate is expected to continue through the rest of the week. Once the House concludes this initial consideration of the budget, when it can be amended, it will take a vote on the final package and send the budget bills to the Senate for its consideration. The two chambers then will meet and attempt to reach compromises on the spending plan

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (:60 MP3)