A state budget nearly $500 million lighter than the nearly $24 billion budget submitted by Governor Nixon in late January is on the verge of being approved by the House, a week early.

The House adjourned Wednesday with three budget bills left to consider. Votes have been close as the House approves a compromise hammered out by House-Senate budget negotiators who trimmed $484 million from the governor’s recommendations.

The House cleared the first budget bill that deals with public debt, accepting the Senate position and sending the bill to the governor. It then dealt with the education budget, CCS/SCS/HCS/HB 2002, which features a freeze in state public school funding. The House originally recommended a $105 million increase in the basic school funding formula, but backed off when state tax revenue failed to rebound. House-Senate budget negotiators accepted the House position to keep school funding at current levels. The $5.3 billion dollar school budget is slightly lower than the current budget. The Parents as Teachers program will receive $13 million less. State funding for local school bus service has been trimmed by $15 million.

Education attracted the biggest interest during House floor debate. Debate stretched to more than an hour. When the vote was taken, the education funding bill passed with five votes to spare 87-64. Other votes would prove closer.

House Democratic leader Paul LeVota of Independence set the stage for Democratic opposition to the budget. He charged that Republicans have been irresponsible in the budget process.

“The budget crisis as it has been called is not a natural disaster, Mr. Speaker. It is a manmade disaster and it has been created by this General Assembly,” LeVota said during floor debate.

Democrats contend pressure could be taken off the budget if Republicans would consider tax credit reform and make subtle changes that would bring in more tax revenue. LeVota pointed out that the budget approved by the Senate relies on other legislation to achieve $115 million in savings. Those bills have yet to be considered in the House.

Republican Darrell Pollock of Lebanon urged colleagues to keep taxpayers foremost in their minds as they considered the state spending plan for next year.

“The people that foot the bill,” Pollock stated. “How important is that? They’re the most important thing, that’s the reason why we’re here. We’re here to live within the means, keeping the taxpayer first.”

The process moved fairly smoothly on Wednesday, until Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem, challenged Rep. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, during debate on the public safety budget bill. Smith read from what he described as Democratic talking points on the budget and chided Democrats for not going along with fellow Democrat, Gov. Nixon, who approved nearly all the budget cuts.

Smith’s inquiry prompted Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat from Columbia, to jump to his feet and question Smith on where he got the paper and question Smith on whether Republicans had their own set of talking points.

The House chamber grew boisterous when Speaker Ron Richard (R-Joplin) seemingly overlooked Democrats seeking recognition to speak and called on House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) to close. Democrats shouted and pounded their desks in protest.

AUDIO: Rep. Jason Smith (R-Salem) questions Rep. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) during House budget debate, admonished by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) [7 min. MP3]

Order was restored and the process continued. The House has three more budget bills left to consider, which it expects to approve on Thursday prior to adjourning for the week.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:60 MP3]