JEFFERSON CITY -- While several area state and federal employees were enjoying their holiday from work Monday, local state representatives were busy discussing the fiscal year 2003 and 2004 budgets at the state capitol.
"If there's one word to describe what we've been doing, it's budget, budget, budget," repeated State Rep. Peter Myers of Sikeston. "We're trying to decide where to make cuts. We really want to stay away from tax increases, though."
Originally Gov. Bob Holden talked about a $300-400 million cut in education, but that's too severe, said Myers, who is a member of the budget committee.
State Rep. Lanie Black III of Charleston said the House voted to sell tobacco bonds worth $150 million for the fiscal year 2003, combined with the postponement of some obligations until fiscal year 2004 and additional cuts from state agencies to reduce the shortfall to approximately $82.3 million.
Of the $82.3 million, higher education would likely have a cut of $21 million with the remaining $61.3 million being cut from elementary and secondary education, causing the original projected withholding of $259 million to be reduced to $61.3 million, Black said. However, budget cuts will still have to be made, he added.
"Smaller schools will definitely be impacted by a budget cut. We're trying to find another alternative," Myers said. "The governor could cut his reserves. Duplicated education programs will probably have to be cut."
During the budget process, committees go through and make cuts. It must pass in both the Senate and House by May 1, Myers said. Then it is passed onto the governor who makes the final decision.
"I think the session's going pretty well," said Black, who is also a member of the budget committee. "We're in a budget crunch right now so the budget is overriding other issues. Once we get the budget figured out, everything else can fall into place."
Black is chair of the appropriations-transportation and economic development committee. He is a member of the budget, agriculture, transportation and motor vehicles and corrections and state institutions committees.
One of the biggest concerns is the amount of state funding that has been cut over the years -- which is something that deeply affects Southeast Missourians, Black noted.
"People in the Bootheel are fairly dependent on state -- and even federal aid -- for such programs as school lunches, child support, health care and prescription drugs," Black said.
The governor recently proposed a $700 million in tax increases, Black recalled. The state is either facing severe cuts in the budget or a need for additional revenues, he said. Like Myers, Black said he knows tax increases are not what the public wants.
A member of the appropriations-agriculture and natural resources and conservation and natural resources committee, and chair of the agriculture committee, Myers said he intends to push the certification of the Clean Water Act for the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway project.
"I know the project is of great importance to a lot of people in Southeast Missouri, especially to those living at Mini Farms and farmers in Scott County east of Highway 61," Myers said. "I'm also working on draining the land east of Mini Farms."
The House of Representatives is also working on the fiscal year 2004 budget which begins July 1, Myers said.
Prioritizing has to take place in budgeting, Myers said. Children living in low income households, the elderly and handicapped are among his top priorities.
Myers said: "As long as the agencies are straight and honest with us, then we can make intelligent cuts."