A signal about just how tight the state budget is and how difficult a task awaits the legislature next year has already caused quite a stir.
House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) set off a controversy when he and his Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) wrote a letter to the Education Commissioner suggesting the Career Ladder, a program that awards teachers for extra work, could be cut. House Democrats scheduled a news conference on the day of the Veto Session to criticize both the position of the two budget chiefs and the fact that they sent a letter speaking for the General Assembly as a whole.
Icet says everything funded through General Revenue is open to scrutiny, because state revenue has fallen with no sign of a rebound in sight.
"If you look at the 2002-2003 timeframe, I think we had a 3% drop and a 4% drop (in state revenue), something like that. Of course, last year was a 7% drop. Year-to-date it’s 7%. I’m not saying the first quarter is the way we’re going to end up, but we’re talking a 14% (drop in state revenue)," Icet says. "So this is a much more serious drop in state revenue than what we experienced when I was here those first few years."
The deteriorating state revenue picture caused Governor Nixon to withhold more than $400 million from the appropriations approved by the General Assembly in the 2009 session. The money will be released only if state revenue picks up. State lawmakers could find themselves
$400-to-500 million in the hole before they even begin considering the state budget that begins July 1, 2010.
Icet says the state will truly struggle with falling revenue and rising obligations.
"Not only are our revenues dropping, we still have mandatory programs. Medicaid for example, $150 million, new general revenue that we don’t have, because the budget is dropping. So that delta of what we need to find, money-wise, just gets bigger and bigger," says Icet. "2011 is going to be a challenge."