Budget crunch time

We are at the point when much is written about the looming statutory deadline for the legislature to pass a budget.  It has to be done by 6 p.m. Friday night.   Under the law. 

Whenever budget crunch time hits in Washington, there is usually much wringing of hands and concerns about a federal government shut down. But what we’ve been seeing and hearing about from Washington recently isn’t likely in Missouri.  Let’s look at why is isn’t.   

Some reports have noted new Governor Eric Greitens didn’t submit his budget proposal until February 2, the latest budget submission since annual legislative sessions began in 1971. But your faithful observer isn’t sure that is, or has been, much of an issue.

Remember the old adage: “The governor proposes; the legislature disposes.” 

The budget message from the governor in January is only one person’s recommendations. It is made based on state revenue projections through the first half of the fiscal year. What emerges in May from the 197 people in the legislature is the budget that counts based on ten months of state fiscal reports and updated projections for the last six or seven weeks of the fiscal year. It’s a budget based on substantially better numbers.  However the checks and balances allow governors to withhold funds or veto them (subject to legislative overrides) to make sure the state does not spend more in the state business year that starts July 1 than it has money to support.  That’s why governors normally wait until about mid-June before acting on budget bills—so they have even later numbers.

The House and the Senate have passed their versions of the budget.  They agree on quite a bit.  It is not unusual for a joint negotiating committee to start working out differences a week before the budget deadline. 

History tells us why failure to pass all of the budget bills by the deadline Friday night is not a catastrophic event.  Any such failure does not mean Missouri government will come to a halt on July 1.  

Twenty years ago the legislature didn’t pass appropriations bills for the Departments of Health and Mental Health.  They also didn’t provide funding for themselves or statewide office-holders, or for the judicial system.  Lawmakers hold off approving money for themselves and top state office-holders until the end, after the financing of services and programs of government is taking care of.   

Remember, the law sets a deadline for budget action during the regular legislative session—so lawmakers can work on policy matters during the last week.  But the law does not prohibit special legislative sessions to finish budget work.  Twenty years ago, Governor Carnahan called a special session to take care of the two bills that didn’t make it during the regular session.  The work was finished in six days.

Another complication that we’ve seen is when a governor vetoes an entire appropriation bill, or bills.  Bob Holden did that in 2003. He didn’t like spending cuts for social services and education.  When a special session sent him new spending plans for those agencies, Holden approved the social services, health and mental health and senior services bill but vetoed the education bill, triggering another special session that started June 24.

The legislature sent him the same bills for K-12 education and for higher education three days later.  Holden decided to sign the bills, saying the consequences of another veto would be worse than those if he signed the bills. But he announced the budget was millions of dollars out of balance and that he was going to withhold enough money to keep state spending in balance.  

Holden finally agreed to sign the bills, and did on June 30.

So if Friday gets here and there’s no state budget, it’s no big deal.  It just means a mini-economic boomlet for Jefferson City when lawmakers soon return for a few days of a special session to finish the job. 

So don’t sweat it, folks. 

One thought on “Budget crunch time

  1. The Constitution of Missouri directs the General Assembly to complete work on the budget one week before the end of regular legislative sessions. The Constitution of Missouri is Missouri’s highest law. Those elected to the privilege of serving in the legislative branch would be well-advised to put their politcal antics aside and the obey the Constitution. After all, trifling with the state’s highest law is hardly the image of governing-by-example the General Assembly wants to give our state’s eighth graders — who have to pass a test on this constitution to graduate — now is it??

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