State lawmakers begin debating the primary issue of the session, the primary issue of every session, this afternoon in the House: the state budget.

As the House prepares for the week-long work of proposing a $23 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July first, the budget doesn’t appear as bleak or contentious as first feared.

House Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones (R-Eureka) tells reporters he’s fairly single minded this week.

“Really, my priority this week is to make sure we get the budget timely done,” according to Jones.

That shouldn’t be as big a problem as it could have been. Lawmakers gathered in Jefferson City in January with the prospect of a $700 million shortfall overshadowing the session.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) says withholdings from Governor Nixon and cooperation between Republicans and Democrats on the committee have set the stage for a smooth budget process.

“By the time we actually entertained amendments, we only had about 12 across all 13 bills,” Silvey says. “I think that’s a testament to the great relationship we’ve had working with everyone on the committee, majority and minority, and I think that that’s going to continue on the floor.”

Silvey says the budget picture brightened with a little sleight of hand by the Nixon Administration. The governor has withheld several hundred thousands from state departments and agencies, often withholding beyond his authority in the estimation of lawmakers. The governor further has told officials in those departments and agencies not to expect that money to be restored. In effect, the withholdings have become core cuts. Silvey says the budget’s bottom line has been lowered enough that the House Budget Committee felt comfortable proposing only $300 million in cuts. That one cut likely to be felt throughout Missouri and one that will cause several lawmakers heartburn is a proposed $55 million in school transportation cuts, being proposed as gas prices sky-rocket.

The House begins the budget process. Then it moves to the Senate.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45 MP3]