Facing Projected $1 Billion Shortfall, State Begins Budgeting Process
JEFFERSON CITY — The requests weren’t for more money, but for a halt to additional budget cuts. On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee began a series of public hearings to hear various government agency representatives plead for maintained funding from the state. With state tax revenues down, however, more cuts will likely be made.
“We’re looking at a billion dollar shortfall,” said Sen. Jim Lembke (R–Saint Louis), “and it’s going to be worse next year.”
About 30 people asked the committee on Monday to maintain funding for governmental programs that fall underneath the administrative umbrellas of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Department of Higher Education, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Corrections, and the Office of Administration. About 65 more are slated to testify on Tuesday, said Committee Director Dan Haug. Each person testifying is allowed three minutes to speak.
The public testimony is the first step in the state’s budgeting process, which will resume in full swing after the governor’s State of the State address in January.
Larry Hendren, testifying on behalf of the University of Missouri’s Alliance of Alumni, told the committee that although the university has frozen tuition and student fees, it is receiving $2 million from the federal government to balance its operating budget, and has restructured retirement benefits — neither of which are sustainable budget fixes.
But, with a predicted 6- or 8-percent shortfall for the year, committee members weren’t very sympathetic.
“Do you know anywhere we could cut?” asked Sen. Tim Green (D–Saint Louis). He explained that if the committee couldn’t make cuts in one program, it would have to cut another.
Throughout the afternoon, Green asked several others who requested the maintenance of state funding to offer suggestions of where they would make cuts. No one had a concrete answer.
With a severe tax revenue shortfall of more than 10 percent during the first quarter of fiscal year 2010, Gov. Jay Nixon made $200 million in state budget cuts, something Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), brought up several times during public testimony. He asked several representatives to explain the reasoning behind the cuts made to their specific government agencies, implying that the amounts seemed somewhat arbitrary.
Marcia Pfeiffer, testifying on behalf of state community colleges, said that about $7.75 million in state funding for community colleges had been cut. She said that the particular amount of funding that had been cut had no other significance than that it amounted to approximately 15 percent of the total $50 million that had been cut from state funding for higher education.