Final budget work is underway in the House, with a cloud hanging over the state’s finances.
Members of the House have begun budget debate after hearing sobering news about revenue growth. The Office of Administration reports state revenue has grown only 2.2% percent, short of the 3.4% growth on which the budget for the next fiscal year was based.
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota (D-Independence) pointed out during House floor debate that corporate income and franchise tax receipts dropped by more than 11% in April. He said that should sound an alarm. House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) agreed that the numbers worried him. Icet did say part of the drop in income from businesses could be, at least in part, attributable to the state giving counties affected by the flooding more time to file.
The House has until Friday at six o’clock to complete work on the $22.5 billion state budget that begins July first. It has cleared two major hurdles with approval of HB 2002 which fund public schools and HB 2003 which funds public colleges.
The education budget totals $5.3 billion and sets aside nearly three billion dollars for public schools. Democrats criticize Republicans for not pouring more money into the classroom. They point out that the new school funding formula hasn’t been completely funded.
Republicans rebut the charge. They note that the education budget increases funding for public schools by nearly $120 million and add that the increase provides schools with the largest budget in state history.
Republicans and Democrats also clash on the amount of money devoted to higher education. The higher education budget totals $1.2 billion, with $900 million allocated to the state’s public universities. Democrats complain that Republicans diverted money from public colleges to fund the Access Missouri scholarship program, which is $76.5 million in the budget. Democrats say the Republicans fixation on scholarships has robbed public institutions of money that could keep tuition from rising. Republicans counter that the scholarship program directly benefits the student.
Ten budget bills remain for the House to approve.