Money, or the lack thereof, will likely be the dominant topic of discussion in the legislative session next year.
Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph) looks at the budget numbers now and looks at the budget projections for the future and reaches a sobering conclusion.
"If you look at the situation that we are in, state revenues are not getting better. I’m mean our hope is that in the third, fourth quarter we’ll start to see that turn around, but we’re certainly not seeing that in the first quarter," Shields says. "So I think it will dominate the discussion. We have been fortunate we have some federal stabilization dollars left that we can use. We’re going to have make some tough decisions, though."
Budget talk has dominated the off-session. State revenue has fallen 7%, far short of the 1% growth the state legislature built the budget on. Governor Nixon vetoed $105 million from the budget and then moved to withhold $325 million. That $430 million total keeps spending in line with lagging revenue, keeping the state budget balanced. If revenues were to pick up, Nixon could release some or all of the $325 million he has withheld.
A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Frank Barnitz (D-Lake Spring) , doesn’t see a brighter budget picture next year than the tough one the state currently is in.
"I am telling people today (to be) prepared, that this is even going to go into another year yet," says Barnitz, who is Senate Minority Caucus Chairman. "So, we have to be making those choices, those decisions today for the future budget of the state. And that could very well mean services and programs aren’t going to be there that people are using today."
House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley (R-Perryville) agrees the budget will be a major issue in the upcoming legislative session. Tilley, though, believes the talk will miss the mark if it focuses solely on aligning state expenditures with state revenue. He says the legislature must consider how best to stimulate Missouri’s economy and create jobs. Tilley says the state can’t cut its way out of the current budget mess.
Tilley says the legislature also will consider health care proposals, such as the proposal Governor Nixon made to extend health care coverage to more Missourians and another to require insurance companies to cover autism treatments. The Senate approved both measures. The House didn’t consider either.
"With the budget, economic development and health care it’s probably going to be a pretty busy session next year," Perry says.
The new legislative session begins at Noon, the 6th of January, 2010.