JEFFERSON CITY -- The state of Missouri's budget crisis is about to come to a head in Missouri General Assembly. With House already on board for the new "lump sum" proposal, it is now the Senate's turn to work out the 2004 budget for the state.
A complex matter, the budget often sparks debates on both sides of the floor. This time around, even with the Republicans firmly in charge of both the House and the Senate, the budget process has been excruciating. This is due in part to what Rep. Peter Myers, R-161st, referred to as "a lack of planning and decision-making among state agencies."
The other and more obvious factor for the budget woes is the nearly $1 billion shortfall in state revenue.
These factors have contributed to the proposed "lump sum" budget now coming through Missouri General Assembly.
This would give agency heads funding in one lump sum as opposed to the "line item" method normally used. This is the first time since 1828 the Missouri General Assembly has handled the budget in this fashion.
The use of the "lump method" (as many in Jefferson City are calling it), is in part due to state agencies lack of prioritization and responsiveness during the "testify and justify" portion of the budget process. It was during this time that a Department of Natural Resources memo created a stir. The memo reportedly advised that staff members should not propose any cuts to Republicans working on the budget. According to Myers, the goals of the "lump method" budget are to hold state agencies more accountable for their actions and more responsive to questioning and justifying the reasoning for their spending.
As the 161st District representative which includes parts of Scott, New Madrid and Cape Girardeau counties, Myers said he is concerned about the effects of the budget crunch on Southeast Missouri.
The budget is going to affect all state agencies in the Southeast Missouri region, except for the Department of Corrections. Due to the increase of prison populations in the Missouri, there will be no cuts in the DOC's funding.
The hardest hit, especially in the Southeast Missouri region, is going to be education, Myers said. Institutions of higher education along with elementary and secondary education face cuts in the budget proposed by the House.
Although there is a formula used by the Legislature to ensure an appropriate amount of money goes toward education, this year there is only a slight increase in the amount of money going to education and not as much as in recent years.
"A major concern of mine (regarding education), is Chaffee." said Myers. "Unlike Sikeston and many other schools in the district, Chaffee does not have a surplus of funds … the cuts are probably going to hit them the hardest."
The Sikeston School District is aware of the effects of the budget shortfall will have on their students, Myers said. "Mr. Borgsmiller and I are in touch one to two times a week … to make sure that his budgeting is correct for the upcoming school year," he said.
Even though the "lump method" of budgeting is being used now, do not expect it to become a ritual of the Missouri General Assembly. This method was seen as a last resort solution to the increasing problem of agency accountability. If the agencies become more responsive to the Missouri General Assembly's inquiries in the upcoming years there should not be a need for this type of action again.