Senate budget cut may miss target

Missouri senators trying to target budget cuts at the agency that issues driver’s licenses may have instead blocked funding for the registration of boats and mobile homes. And other Senate cuts could cancel funding for police training and the collection of child support, the state budget director said Tuesday.

A day after the Senate passed a budget plan packed with attention-grabbing cuts, an analysis of those cuts conducted by the state budget chief at the request of the Associated Press indicates some reductions may have missed their intended mark while others could have unintended consequences.

The most prominent among the Senate’s cuts is the elimination of the entire $3.5 million allotment and 37 full-time employee positions for the Motor Vehicle and Driver Licensing Division. Republican senators said their intent was to hold some leverage over licensing officials as they seek additional information about the way the agency gathers, retains and distributes information about people who apply for driver’s licenses.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer told colleagues during debate that, if the proposed cut ultimately became law, “they will not be able to issue any driver’s licenses.”

But Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget director, Linda Luebbering, said Tuesday that the cut would not actually hit the budget line that finances driver’s licenses. Instead, she said, it would prevent the processing of titles and registrations for boats, ATVs and manufactured homes. Luebbering said the cut also could prevent the state from issuing licenses to dealers and manufacturers of motor vehicles and boats.

She said funding for the issuance of driver’s licenses actually is located in a separate budget line labeled for “collecting highway related fees and taxes,” which the Senate left untouched at $22.9 million.

“That’s news to me, and that is not how they have ever explained the budget to us,” Schaefer, R-Columbia, said when told about the state budget director’s analysis.

In the coming weeks, Schaefer and a select group of senators will meet with a similar delegation of House members to negotiate a final version of Missouri’s 2014 budget. Schaefer said the confusion about the cuts highlights senators’ concerns that they have not been given specific information from executive branch officials about what actually is funded by particular budget allotments.

“It is incumbent on them to come in and explain to us what’s in these (budget) lines,” Schaefer said. He added later: “We not going to just blindly appropriate things without seeing clearly what’s in it.”

The cut to the licensing division, which is part of the Department of Revenue, stemmed from Republican frustration about a new licensing procedure in which clerks are making electronic copies of applicants’ personal documents, such as birth certificates and concealed gun permits, to be retained in a state database.

Nixon’s administration has defended the document scanning as an important tool to fight fraud, though Nixon has since ordered a halt to the copying of concealed gun permits.

As part of an inquiry into the new procedures by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Missouri State Highway Patrol recently said it had twice obtained a list of people holding concealed gun permits, based on information collected by the Revenue Department. The patrol said it provided that list to a disability fraud investigator in the U.S. Social Security Administration. Federal officials said they were unable to read the computer disks, but Republican lawmakers contend that the data sharing nonetheless was an invasion of privacy.

In addition to the licensing division cut, the Senate budget plan would cut $7 million from the administrative division of the Department of Revenue. Luebbering said that would eliminate funding for a state contractor that handles the collection and distribution of child support payments.

“It really means people wouldn’t get their child support checks,” Luebbering said.

The Senate budget plan cuts about $20 million from the director’s office in the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the highway patrol. Luebbering said most of that is federal money passed on to local agencies to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and disasters. She said the funding cut also would eliminate the entire state homeland security staff that works with local agencies and cancel state funding for the licensing and training of police officers.

The Senate budget plan cuts about $9 million from the Office of Administration’s information technology division, which prepared the data on concealed weapons permit holders for the Highway Patrol. That cut includes $2.7 million to pay a contractor that makes Missouri driver’s licenses. Luebbering said other portions of the computer division cut would limit the state’s ability to make more state services available online.

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