Commentary by Missouri State Senator Jay Wasson (R-20/Nixa)
Majority Caucus Chairman
The governor delivered his annual State of the State address on Tuesday evening. Lawmakers gathered in the House chamber to hear the governorís legislative priorities for the 2014 session and, more importantly, receive his budget recommendations for the following year.
I say more importantly because the actual speech rarely contains any concrete suggestions on the problems facing our state, which isnít a dig at the governor himself, but more a general statement on these types of speeches. Theyíre not meant to be lengthy descriptions of legislative proposals, but more of a broad statement on the governorís hopes for the new session.
The thing is, the majority of lawmakers, from both sides of the aisle, agree with those goals. We all want more funding for education. We all want job creation and economic prosperity. We all want safer communities and better state infrastructure. These are universal priorities.
The differences arise in how we go about reaching those goals. Itís really easy to say youíre going to save the world; itís not so simple figuring out how to pay for it.
For example, the governor is calling for $278 million in additional funds for the stateís Foundation Formula. That is an admirable goal, and one weíve been working toward for years. I would love to see more money spent on education in this state. Itís one of the best investments we can make in our future. But where do we get that money?
According to the governorís office, the funds will mostly come from increased revenue collections. His office has projected revenue to grow by 5.2 percent in FY 2015. However, many people doubt we will hit those incredibly optimistic marks.
Itís more likely weíll see modest growth, around 4.2 percent, which is what many lawmakers estimate. This discrepancy is substantial, and the reason legislators are hesitant to follow the governorís huge increases in state programs. If we go by the lower, and probably more accurate figure, the governorís budget is about $250 million off from being balanced, give or take.
Now, to be clear, our economy is improving. Revenue collections are increasing and unemployment is falling. This is great news, and hopefully these trends continue. However, itís not necessarily an indication of what will happen next year.
Despite the way some lawmakers may speak, weíre not seers or prophets. Like anyone, we can only guess the future, which is why itís important we remain fiscally conservative regardless of how rosy the outlook is on paper. Itíd be wonderful to budget a nearly $300 million increase for education, but itís not going to do us a lot of good if that money just has to be withheld later this year when revenue growth doesnít meet projections.
I believe we should budget, based on the lower revenue estimate. Itís always better to spend less than what you have, than more. Thatís just common sense. Our budget has to be created using realistic revenue estimates, so if future collections fail to meet the lofty targets the governorís office has set, we still have a workable budget that stays within our means.
In the coming weeks, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hear testimony from various state departments on their fiscal needs for the coming year. Using the governorís recommendations as a loose guide, lawmakers will create the budget for Fiscal Year 2015, where it will first be considered in the House, and then the Senate.
As always, I will fight to see our local schools are funded at a fair level and that our citizens have access to the state services they depend upon. I will keep you updated as the budget process continues in the 2014 session.