Governor withholds $240 million from education, other agencies
By CARL H. HENDRICKSON
For the Call
Many feared that the state government could have been shut down without funding for education on Tuesday, the beginning of the new fiscal year.
But Democratic Gov. Bob Holden an-nounced his intention to sign the state's education budget bills, which will avert another showdown with the Republican-led General Assembly. He said he will withhold $190 million from elementary and secondary education, $20 million from higher education and $30 million from other state agencies to make up for the shortfall in state revenue.
Last week the GOP-dominated House and Senate again rejected Holden's plea to raise taxes to fund the education budgets. Holden contends that the budgets for elementary and secondary education and for higher education are $240 million out of balance.
To raise more money, the governor wanted lawmakers to increase casino taxes, eliminate the casino loss limit and close "corporate tax loopholes."
Before last week's vote, Holden said in a news release, "They (the Legislature) can continue to cloud this issue and deny the numbers — they can attempt to hide the truth from the public.
"But as governor of this state, I must deal with reality. And the reality is they have not balanced the budget," he stated.
Nevertheless, the Legislature passed the education funding bills unchanged from their budget of a week earlier. Local legislators split along party lines.
Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-Sunset Hills, and Reps. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, and Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, supported the unchanged funding bills.
Reps. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville, and Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay, voted against passage. Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton, was absent, but indicated to the Call that he would have not supported passage.
"It is time for the governor to put politics aside and face the reality that our state government — like the citizens we serve — can and must live within our means," according to Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood.
In announcing his intention to sign the education budget bills, the governor had harsh words for the GOP-led General Assembly, "They have acted irresponsibly and have seriously harmed the educational opportunities for Missouri's children. I am profoundly disappointed by the hostility the Republican-controlled General Assembly has shown toward public education over the last six months and I cannot and will not sit by silently in the face of their assault on public education. Our fight for education and the school children of this state is not ending. In fact, it is only beginning."
Schoemehl stated in a news release that she agrees that the governor must withhold the $240 million.
"The governor will be forced to withhold that amount of money on July 1 because the Constitution mandates that the state operate on a balanced budget. If the Legislature can't do it, the responsibility falls upon the governor."
Bivins, a former member of the Mehl-ville school board, said in a news release, "I find it interesting he (the governor) is choosing to withhold almost 90 percent of this amount (the $240 million shortfall that Holden claims) from education when education makes up only 30 percent of the budget. If there truly is a shortfall of $240 million, education's fair share of withholding would be $72 million total for K through 12 and higher education."
He went on to say, "In spite of Holden's 'scare tactics' regarding education, they will receive the same level of funding in fiscal year 2004 as received in fiscal year 2003. This is $490 million more than education received in 2001, when state income was the same as this year's income."
Yaeger disagreed, telling the Call, "The education cuts are too deep and are unacceptable. The Republican majority is playing a shell game when it uses a different set of numbers than the governor."
The Mehlville, Affton and Lindbergh school districts are among the state's school districts least affected by the General Assembly's budget.
Mehlville ranks No. 516 in the state with a total loss of $264,155, with 0.3 percent loss from cuts. Affton ranks No. 512 in the state with a total loss of $84,536. Its loss from cuts is 0.4 percent. Lindbergh ranks No. 510 with $181,626 in total loss. Its loss from cuts is also 0.4 percent.