Nixon releases $10M for Mo. school busing

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon released an additional $10 million in transportation aid for public schools Thursday, citing improvements in state revenues since he reduced funding seven months ago.

When Missouri’s budget year began last July, Nixon cut $70 million of the $153 million lawmakers had allocated for school busing. He said then the cut was needed to keep the budget balanced because tax revenues were likely to fall short of projections.

But Missouri’s tax collections have come in better than Nixon’s administration expected.

The Democratic governor restored $7.5 million in school busing aid last month. The additional $10 million came as the state reported Thursday that its net general revenues were up 16 percent in January compared to the same time last year. Through the first seven months of the fiscal year, Missouri’s revenues were up 6.3 percent compared to the previous fiscal year.

“This uptick in state revenue allows us to provide additional funds to help schools statewide pay for K-12 transportation,” Nixon said in a written statement released with the monthly revenue report.

A spokesman for the Missouri School Boards’ Association said the decision to release additional transportation money was welcome news.

“We’ll take it,” Missouri School Boards’ Association spokesman Brent Ghan said. “Based on the difficult financial situation that school districts continue to face, every bit of good news is helpful at this point.”

Some school officials had been concerned they could lose all of their state transportation assistance as Nixon and lawmakers faced a projected budget shortfall of several hundred million dollars. That now appears unlikely. Nixon, for example, has recommended that schools receive about $98 million in transportation aid next fiscal year.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Sara Lampe of Springfield, held a news conference last month calling on Nixon to begin restoring transportation aid because of improvements in state revenues.

“I’m glad that the governor is hearkening to the call of the Legislature and the school districts around the state, who desperately need that transportation money,” Silvey said Thursday, adding that he hopes Nixon will release even more busing aid if state revenues keep improving.

Nixon’s budget director, Linda Luebbering, said she does not anticipate any additional school busing aid being released this year.

She said Missouri posted a strong revenue month in January largely because of a big decline in tax refunds compared to January 2010, which budget officials will be monitoring to see whether it was a blip or a trend as more income tax returns get filed.

For the fiscal year, Missouri’s individual income tax collections are up 3 percent compared to the previous year, corporate income and franchise taxes are up 7.8 percent and state sales tax collections are up 1.4 percent.

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