JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Senate will try to get what Republicans in the General Assembly couldn't: cooperation from the state's department heads as to how to cut two-thirds of a billion dollars from the state budget.
The Senate Appropriations Committee reached consensus last night to direct their staffers to go back to the state's departments for information on where to cut programs, a mission House Republicans attempted and failed.
As a result of that failure, for the first time in recent memory, the House did not pass a budget with line by line appropriations for individual state programs. Instead they passed a package of budget bills that allots a lump sum to each department.
But Appropriations Committee Chairman John Russell, R-Lebanon, said he thinks the heads of the Education, Corrections, Higher Education, Health and Social Service departments will be more willing to share ideas for cutting their programs in the more collegial air of the Senate.
"I don't want to fight with the House," Russell said. "But they probably didn't structure their questions [to department directors] very well."
In January, Democratic Gov. Bob Holden introduced a state budget that was out of balance based on the state's current revenue projection. Instead, the Governor's budget avoids significant program cuts by depending on nearly $600 million in tax increases on smokers, gamblers, and corporations.
Under Missouri law, even if the Republican-controlled legislature agreed to such large tax increases, the new taxes would have to be ratified by a vote of the people.
But with the Governor refusing to accept any substantial cuts to state government and House Republicans against any substantial tax increases, the stage has been set for moderates in the Republican-controlled Senate to draw up a compromise.
In a voice that was both weary and grave, Russell addressed the Appropriations Committee at the start of Monday night's meeting, blaming himself and senior lawmakers from both parties for voting for tax cuts and spending increases over the past decades that have thrust the state's expenditures hundreds of millions of dollars beyond its income.
Russell has come out in favor of some package of smaller tax increases or "revenue enhancements", and has said several of his fellow Republicans are coming around to the idea. He's introduced several bills into the Senate that would raise new taxes, but his fellow Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee have yet to hold a hearing on them.
Ultimately, the Appropriations Committee seems to have reached consensus on a process to pass two budgets: one that would cut two-thirds of a billion from the state budget, and another that would cut some smaller amount if Missouri voters approve a substantial tax increase.