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Wasson Report 4.12.2012

Senate Prepares for

Budget Debate

There are six weeks left in this year’s legislative session. As we approach the homestretch, the Senate will begin working on what I believe is the most important task we undertake each year: balancing the state’s budget. It is also the only duty the Legislature is constitutionally required to complete. In the coming weeks, a majority of our time will be focused on crafting the budget for fiscal year 2013.

There’s a misconception, however, about how much leeway lawmakers and the governor actually have in crafting the state’s spending plan. Out of a $24 billion budget, there’s only about a third we actually appropriate general revenue funds to, and the majority of those funds are tied into education and Medicaid. There are simply not a lot of movable parts to our budget.

And unlike the federal government, Missouri can only spend what it takes in. While this makes balancing our state budget a difficult, drawn out process, it also forces lawmakers and elected officials to prioritize.

But balancing the budget this year will be a particularly difficult task. We’re facing a $500 million shortfall, thanks to a confluence of events. For the last few years, the state has used federal stimulus dollars—which many of us were against—to plug the holes in our budget. That money is no longer available. At the same time, the cost of Medicaid has skyrocketed. To put it simply, our fiscal need has outmatched our revenue growth.

The fiscally responsible cuts, the agreed ways to streamline our government, have already been done. What remains are hard choices on how we will continue funding the critical functions of our government. There are probably some very worthwhile programs that will have to be reduced or even eliminated. This is never easy, but it is necessary for the future of our state.

Missouri’s core operating budget is made up of 13 bills, with each bill addressing a different area of state government. These bills are first considered in the House, and once approved, move to the Senate Appropriations Committee and then on to the full Senate for debate. After we approve our version of the budget, a conference committee can be called to iron out any differences between the Senate and House’s versions. The General Assembly has until May 11 to pass the state’s budget.

There are difficult decisions ahead of us. The end result may not be something I completely agree with, and most other senators will be able to say the same. But, each lawmaker will have his or her say, and each lawmaker will have his or her vote. This is part of the process, the give and take that makes up the legislative process. And come May 11, the state of Missouri will have a balanced budget.