Our Opinion: Coping with another budget shortfall

Still broke.

Gov. Jay Nixon and state lawmakers begin a new year, and new session, facing yet another budget shortfall.

An estimated $500 million gap will separate revenues and expenses projected for the coming budget year.

Budget shortfalls are nothing new during this prolonged economic downturn, but officials will face some new budgeting challenges.

First, federal stimulus money used to shore up previous state budgets will no longer be available for the 2013 budget year.

Second, the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders have agreed not to seek tax increases to raise revenues.

Consequently, officials will rely on spending cuts to balance the state budget. Missouri’s constitution requires a balanced budget and prioritizes paying bills, unlike the U.S. Constitution, which permits federal borrowing.

Because spending cuts have been made to alleviate previous budget shortfalls, additional cuts become progressively more difficult.

“If there were any programs that everybody agreed needed to go away, that happened a couple of years ago,” said Linda Luebbering, Nixon’s budget director. “We’re now to the point of making decisions about cutting spending that, really, we wouldn’t be cutting if we had more revenue.”

The severity of budget cuts presents a double dilemma.

Cuts will eliminate or lessen social services, even as statistics show more people descending into poverty.

In addition, lack of funds will delay innovations that promise to be cost-effective over the long term.

Among those innovations are advances in addressing: rehabilitation rather than incarceration for criminals; treatment and recovery programs for addicts; expanding specialized courts to other areas, including military veterans; and accommodating people with special needs, from autism to Alzheimer’s disease.

Research and technology have opened new paths in these and other areas, but exploration is expensive.

Sadly, the budget shortfall will require making the best of a bad situation — again.

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