State revenue has been reeling since the recession, but a slight improvement of late might take some pressure off legislators trying to cut state expenses to match expected state revenue.

A bit of federal money remains, but not the nearly $1 billion which kept lawmakers from cutting deeper into the budget last year. Withholdings from Governor Nixon could provide a balance to carry over. Still, the budget shortfall for next year could total as much as $700 million.

Nixon says though state revenue has improved of late, he’s sticking with the dire forecast.

“We’re still looking at December to see what those exact revenue numbers are,” Nixon says, “but I think somewhere in that $5-to-700 million range is a fair gap. It’ll be more precise than that over the coming week.”

That will guide Nixon in determining the budget he will propose in the State of the State address on the 19th and that guides lawmakers says House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey of Kansas City.

“Well, it’s going to depend on what the governor offers in his State of the State (address). Once we see what his spending plan is then we’ll have a better idea of where we need to get to,” Silvey tells the Missourinet. “There will be cuts. There’s no way that we’re going to get out of this without making more cuts.”

State revenue has been trending up of late, though up just a little. That encourages Silvey to believe the Consensus Revenue Estimate legislative leaders reached with Governor Nixon’s office is sound. Lawmakers expect state revenue next year to grow by about 4%. The CRE is used to build the state budget. Net general revenue collections in FY 2012 are projected to total $7.295 billion. Though that would represent modest growth in state revenue, it would still fall $700 million below collections in FY 2008.

Silvey says improved state revenue encourages him to lower the budget shortfall estimate to between $300 million and $500 million, the forecast made by Senate leader Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) who served as Senate Appropriations Committee chairman last session. A few pots of money remain, which could ease the strain on the state budget. Withholdings by the governor could leave a cash balance of as much as $250 million to start the new fiscal year. The state expects to include approximately $209 million in federal money in next year’s budget as well as another $189 million in federal money which must be spent on education.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:15 MP3]