JEFFERSON CITY - As the end of the legislative session looms, some state lawmakers and officials are concerned about whether a state sales tax cut measure will make it through the Senate.
The House reported the legislation to the Senate last Thursday, but when the Senate recessed for its Tuesday evening dinner break, the bill still had not yet been assigned to a committee.
"The sales tax cut appears to have slowed down considerably," said Chris Sifford, spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan.
Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, who is in charge of assigning bills to committee, said he would assign the bill during Tuesday's night session.
Rep. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, sponsored the bill in the House. He said the delay in assigning the bill, which Mathewson opposes, could spell its doom.
"There's obviously a need for the Senate to take some time and debate this," Jacob said. "This wait puts the bill in a precarious position and might lead to its demise."
Carnahan proposed the tax cut at the beginning of the session as a way of dealing with the Hancock Amendment, which sets limitations on state revenue. Many legislators agree that some form of a state tax cut would make more sense than collecting the tax and then being forced to refund it.
Mathewson, however, has said he disagrees with the measure because he believes the Hancock Amendment will be thrown out by the courts, making the sales tax cut unnecessary.
But he said the delay in assigning the bill has nothing to do with his opposition to it.
"I'm just unsure of where to send the bill," he said.
While acknowledging the rapidly approaching May 17 deadline, Sifford said the governor's office has hope the sales tax cut will pass.
"We are still optimistic we can get a cut in the sales tax before the end of the session, although we know it will be difficult," he said.
Others also expressed confidence that the legislature would find a way to deal with the state's financial situation before it adjourns.
"We're going to pass a bill to meet the Hancock lid," said Sen. Harry Wiggins, D-Kansas City. "I don't know what form it will take, but something will be passed."
In other legislative action:
The House approved Tuesday the higher education budget that includes a 7.2 percent increase in state funds for the University's general operating budget. The budget covers the fiscal year which begins July 1.
Under the bill, the state's community colleges would also receive a $4.3 million increase in their budgets, as well as appropriating more money for student grant programs than the previous year.
The higher education budget would give $5 million to "grants for cooperation between technical schools and other community resources," said Rep. Dick Franklin, D-Independence, the bill's sponsor.
Franklin said the increases in the higher education budget would "provide and offer higher education to any student in the state."
The House also approved the state's secondary and elementary budget, including $10 million for grants to establish alternative schools. These grants would be set up under the so-called "Safe Schools Act," which is backed by the governor. Alternative schools would be for students who do not effectively function in a traditional school setting.
The House was unable to complete action on the rest of the state's budget when members discovered a technical mistake that potentially could nullify funding for counseling on abortion alternatives.
The bill was sent back to a House-Senate conference committee to fix the mistake.
The bill allows liquor wholesalers to sell alcohol packed with nonalcoholic products. For example, a bottle of vodka could be sold with orange juice or a 12-pack of beer could include a package of golf balls.
The bill also increases the amount a wholesaler can spend on advertising displays in retail outlets from $250 to $400.
Sen. Bill McKenna, D-Barnhart, a proponent of the bill, said this legislation is similar to laws in several other states.