Missouri lawmakers: Agreement on estimate for revenues

Missouri legislative budget leaders said Thursday they agreed to a revenue estimate for next year's budget without Gov. Jay Nixon signing off on it.

Lawmakers responsible for the budget and the governor typically agree to an estimate on how much state government will take in. That serves as a foundation for building a budget because the discussion can focus on how to spend the money if officials agree what will be available.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said the budget they develop will use an estimate of 4.2

percent growth for next year. The lawmakers said Nixon's office changed course and sought a larger revenue estimate that Stream and Schaefer contend can be justified.

"Here's the bottom line: We are not Washington, DC. We don't decide what we want to spend and then worry later about how we're going to pay for it," said Schaefer, R-Columbia. "We first figure out how much money we have to spend, and then we determine what that money is going to be spent on."

Schaefer said Legislature estimates $8.59 billion of general revenue for the 2015 budget taking effect July 1. He said Nixon's office wanted $8.73 billion, or 5.9 percent growth. The lawmakers also agreed to a revision of the current year's revenue estimate from about $7.9 billion to $8.2 billion.

Nixon is to submit his recommended state operating budget next month to the Legislature, which has to until early May to pass a spending plan. The governor said in a statement Thursday he will propose a "fiscally responsible budget" that protects taxpayers and core state services.

"With our economy picking up steam and our unemployment rate continuing to drop, we have a unique opportunity to build on this momentum by making additional investments in our students and schools," Nixon said. "I look forward to working with the House and the Senate when they return to session to maintain fiscal discipline and make forward-looking investments that keep our economy growing."

Already, Nixon has said his budget will include an additional $36.7 million for universities, $20 million for colleges and universities to train more mental health professionals and $15 million for expanding a merit-based scholarship. Nixon also wants to fully fund Missouri's school formula by the time he leaves office in January 2017. It currently is about $600 million short.

For the 2003 legislative session, incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Carl Bearden refused to sign off on the revenue estimate agreed to by Gov. Bob Holden and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman John Russell.

Bearden was reluctant to approve something before he officially became the committee's chairman and had concerns about how the revenue estimate was reached.

The lack of agreement created some confusion as officials worked on the budget.

The consensus revenue estimate was developed near the end of Gov. John Ashcroft's administration. Before then, the House, Senate and governor's office developed their own revenue projections, so they sometimes differed on whether state government had enough money to meet proposed expenditures.