House won't follow Nixon's budget plan

Missouri’s Republican-led House is starting its budget-writing process from scratch, scrapping the recommendations of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream said Thursday that he won’t use Nixon’s budget plan as the starting point for legislation, because he believes it spends at least $310 million more than Missouri likely will receive in tax revenues.

Instead, Stream said he is using the current year’s budget as the beginning point for the proposed 2015 budget and will allot each of the six House appropriations committees a lump sum of additional money to divvy out as funding increases.

“I’m going to increase funding in virtually every area, but it won’t be to the levels that the governor promised or proposed,” said Stream, R-Kirkwood.

For example, Stream said he is allotting an additional $317 million in funding increases to the House panel that oversees the budgets of public school districts and higher education. It will be up to that House committee to decide how much of that should go to K-12 schools versus state colleges and universities and how specifically it should be spent.

Stream’s allotment for education funding increases is significantly smaller than the $490 million increase that Nixon recommended for education when he outlined a budget during his State of the State address two weeks ago.

Nixon has defended his plan as a balanced budget that takes a more optimistic view of the state’s economy than embraced by lawmakers.

“As Missouri’s economy continues to pick up steam, now is not the time to back up on our commitment to what we know is the best economic development tool there is: public education,” Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said in written statement responding to the House budget plan.

Nixon proposed a $278 million increase in Missouri’s roughly $3 billion base budget for public school districts, which would move Missouri halfway toward covering the projected shortfall in what’s called for under a state school funding law.

Nixon also proposed a variety of funding increases for higher education, including $42 million to be distributed to colleges and universities based on whether they met performance goals. He also proposed millions of dollars more for scholarships and to accommodate additional students in mental health fields and other particular study areas.

Stream said education funding will remain a priority for the House, even though its budget will include smaller increases than sought by Nixon.

Stream set aside lesser amounts of money for funding increases in other areas of government — $132.6 million for the departments of health, mental health and social services; $56.8 million for general administration; $15.6 million for the departments of revenue, economic development and transportation; $13 million for the departments of public safety and corrections; and $5.6 million for the departments of agriculture and natural resources.

By starting with the current year’s budget, House members will be deciding how much more to spend. Had they started with Nixon’s budget plan, Stream said lawmakers would have been “in a terrible position of trying to cut a lot of things.”

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, described Nixon’s proposal as “potentially a real budget-buster.”

Missouri’s governor and legislative budget leaders typically agree to a state revenue forecast before presenting their budget plans. But this year, there was no consensus.

The House and Senate budget chairmen projected that the current year’s revenues will rise by 2 percent and that 2015 revenues will grow by an additional 4.2 percent. Nixon’s budget assumes revenue growth of 2.8 percent this year and an additional 5.2 percent in 2015.

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