FIRST PERSON | The State of Missouri’s fiscal year 2011-2012 budget passed by the General Assembly in early May was $23.2 billion. Lawmakers cut the budget in some areas and kept spending the same in others. As a lifelong Missouri resident currently living in Branson, I’ve seen good years for Missouri and bad years in terms of state spending. This year will be particularly difficult as the state recovers from an economic recession and several natural disasters.
The Columbia Missourian reported the General Assembly passed the state’s budget May 5. It was for $23.2 billion, about even from the previous year’s amount. Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon cut an additional $300 million from the budget to make up for lost revenue. The cuts haven’t been too drastic for next year as of this point.
Missouri’s public school funding formula provides a legal framework for lawmakers to follow. For the 2012 fiscal year, lawmakers left school funding about $180 million short of the formula. They left the same amount of funding intact from last year. Transportation funding was cut by tens of millions of dollars. Higher education took a 5.5 percent cut from the legislature. Many colleges and universities raised tuition to compensate, much to the consternation of students headed to school. Nixon may make further cuts.
As much as I dislike education cuts, in a pinch it makes sense that the state of Missouri would do this. Local public schools rely heavily on property taxes for basic funding. Extra programs might have to be cut, but a basic education in Missouri will be intact. A portion of Nixon’s budget cuts included $100 million in cuts to capital improvements on college campuses.
Nixon made extra cuts to Medicaid that he deemed unnecessary. A total of $13.9 million was cut from state-aided health insurance. Part of the reason Nixon made the cuts was to reconcile a $30 million budget deficit left over.
Because of natural disasters such as flooding and tornadoes, Nixon was forced to make more cuts in the state budget from other programs to take care of disaster relief. They were unexpected expenses for which the governor has the authority to shuffle funds around as long as he doesn’t increase funding beyond what the General Assembly mandated.
The Missouri Department of Transportation recommended massive cuts to its offices across the state. Instead of the normal $1.2 billion per year MoDOT normally gets, it decided to have a minimalist budget of just $600 million for road and bridge projects.
As such, 135 offices will have to be closed all over Missouri. By 2015, the savings will be upwards of $500 million to taxpayers. MoDOT made the cuts at the direction of the governor, as the department would be unable to find matching funds for federal projects. It was a tough choice, and Missouri’s transportation may suffer for years, but at least maintaining roads will still be a priority.
Nixon is a Democrat while the General Assembly is largely Republican. Both sides have not always agreed with each other. Both sides also take credit for Missouri’s budget agreement. The legislature did override a veto of the congressional re-districting plan, so both sides have not exactly seen eye-to-eye.
However, the budgetary process was cordial and necessary. Everyone knew raising taxes would not be the best for Missourians, so they made budget cuts instead.
Missouri’s budget woes are being felt just like any other state. It could be worse — at least it’s not Minnesota shutting down, California’s billions of dollars in budget cuts or the $1.5 billion Michigan had to cut. Missouri isn’t the richest state in the union, but at least the budget complaints haven’t reached a crisis level like larger states. Instead of infighting among parties, the budget process was largely peaceful and the government got it done.
I applaud our politicians in Jefferson City. They stayed focused and made sure the budget was financially sound.