Gov. Nixon expected to outline more budget cuts
Originally published January 17, 2012 at 2:32 p.m., updated January 17, 2012 at 5:51 p.m.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was expected to propose more cuts to government services Tuesday as he outlines an election-year budget strained by several years of weak state revenues and limited by a reluctance to raise taxes on residents who may be financially struggling.
With a gap of about $500 million between projected expenses and revenues, cuts are almost certain for the new budget year that begins July 1. What remained uncertain was whether Nixon would seek to spare K-12 public school districts — or public colleges and universities — from the financial pain.
Nixon, a Democrat who is facing re-election this year, was to deliver his annual State of the State address at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
"All things considered, I think all of the university presidents would feel most fortunate if the governor recommends no reductions to operating budgets," said Brian Long, a former state budget director how now is the director of the Missouri Council on Public Higher Education. "But I think everyone is prepared for there to be cuts to operating budgets, it's just a question of how deep they will be."
After two years of declining state funding, Missouri's public colleges and universities already are at their lowest funding level since the 2004 fiscal year.
Missouri also has failed in recent years to fund the full amount called for by its formula that distributes basic aid to public elementary and secondary schools. Nixon's budget director, Linda Luebbering, has said the administration hopes to be able to avoid cutting school aid, even if it can't meet the increase called for by the funding formula.
"Given the state's budget hole, if we could get flat funding for the formula and other education programs, that may be the best case scenario," said Brent Ghan, a spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association.
Both Nixon and Republican legislative leaders have in the past ruled out general tax increases to help balance the budget.
Nixon has said little publicly about his proposed budget in advance of Tuesday's speech, other than to scrap an idea his office had floated to tap into the reserves of five of the state's largest universities to help finance the operating budgets of the higher education system. Instead, Nixon has traveled the state previewing a series of job-training proposals and steps to increase international exports that he is expected to flesh out during his speech.
House Majority Leader Tim Jones and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer pre-recorded a Republican response earlier Tuesday that was to be broadcast after Nixon's speech.
Jones, of Eureka, said the two lawmakers were calling on Nixon to advance an agenda that could be embraced by the Republican-led Legislature and to propose a budget that is not balanced on the backs of children — such as through cuts to schools — but instead focuses on the growth of entitlement programs such as Medicaid.
"What we've seen in years past is we've seen the governor always give a great speech, but it's been high on rhetoric and short on actual details," Jones said.
House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said he met with Nixon earlier Tuesday to wish him good luck on his speech, but the governor did not divulge any details about his budget proposal.
"I really hope he sends us a legitimately balanced budget that we can work from," Tilley said.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is expected to propose more cuts to government services as he outlines a budget during his State of the State address.
Nixon is to deliver his annual speech at 7 p.m. Tuesday to a joint session of the House and Senate. It will be Nixon's last such speech before he is up for re-election later this year.
The Democratic governor has previewed his remarks by emphasizing job-training proposals while traveling around the state. But much of the intrigue centers on how Nixon will balance a 2013 budget with an estimated gap of $500 million between projected expenses and revenues.
Public school officials are hoping they can avoid the cuts that are expected to hit nearly every state agency.
The address will be streamed live via www.mo.gov.