There is a different tone to the public hearings being held by the Senate Appropriations Committee this year, a tone dictated by lean times.
Normally, citizens appearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee request more money. This year, with revenues lagging nearly 8% below last year, they just hope to hold on to what they have. Public hearings began Monday afternoon. Citizens representing programs and services and some who benefit from those programs have been testifying before the committee. Some of the testimony has described the effect of budget cuts.
State revenue this fiscal year totals $2.71 billion compared with $2.93 billion at this time last year. Governor Nixon has responded by cutting $634 million. Nixon vetoed $105 million from the budget approved by the legislature during the past session. He withheld an additional $325 million, holding to release the money if the revenue picture improved. It didn’t. He announced in late October another $204 million in withholdings.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) says everyone seems aware that times are tough, incredibly tough.
“When you put it into perspective, back earlier in this decade, I guess back in 2002 and ‘03, both those years combined we were looking at deficits amounts of $400 to 450 million,” Dexter says. “What we’re looking at now is probably close to a billion dollars below revenue figures of 2008.”
General Revenue in the state budget reached its high water mark of $8 billion in 2008. GR is important, because it isn’t designated to any particular agency, program or service and can be spent at the discretion of the legislature. The total state budget stands at $22.5 billion.
Next year should be better for revenue, but not much.
Public schools haven’t suffered cuts and have actually received increases. Mayer’s unsure whether the legislature can keep up with payments to the new school funding formula.
“Well, I think most of the legislature, I’m speaking for myself and the Republican Caucus would certainly like to see education funding held harmless,” Mayer says. “Now, what exactly that means, how much we are going to able to provide of the increase in funding, it’s difficult to say at this time.”
Public hearings at the Capitol conclude today. The legislature returns to Jefferson City for the new legislature session next month.
Brent Martin reports.