JEFFERSON CITY - Voters often tell lawmakers to live within their means, but that will be especially difficult for next year's legislators because the amount of those means are unclear.
A Cole County Judge ruled last month that the state had to return to taxpayers $244 million of the state's revenue under the Hancock Amendment. An appeal to the Western District Court of Appeals already filed by the state, puts the money in legal limbo at least until sometime next year.
In preparation for the possible ruling, the state froze $155 million previously designated for capital improvement projects at the beginning of the year. Much of that money would have been used for projects at state universities and colleges, and would have been released starting July 1 of this year.
That still leaves an $89 million gap for lawmakers and the governor to wrestle with. The uncertainty is especially challenging for Gov.-elect Bob Holden, who must have a budget proposal together by the end of January.
Mike Hartmann, Holden's designated commissioner for the Office of Administration, said it was too early to determine exactly how the governor will handle the issue. Hartmann said the staff understood they had put together a prudent budget that considered the possibility of the refund, but they were confident that the state would win its appeal.
The money in question comprises only three percent of the state's General Revenue budget, but Senate Appropriations Chair Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County, said it is enough to have a "significant impact on the budget."
The delayed or canceled capital improvement projects could be a future headache for the state. Goode said the money set aside for capital improvements generally come from one-time money sources. If the appropriations are canceled, they will not automatically be reappropriated later. This would disrupt what Goode described as orderly building and could create headaches later.
"If you don't do that over time, you wind up with a lot of old buildings that are in terrible shape," he said.
Goode said that although the $244 in question is almost the same amount of money expected annually from the state's tobacco settlement, it will likely not solve the problem.
"There's already a significant demand for the tobacco money, and it's almost certain that the tobacco money is going to be used for health care related expenditures and not for capital improvements," Goode said. "They are not monies that would be used for the same purposes."
Republican Senate President Pro tem nominee Peter Kinder said he hopes the money would not have to come from capital improvements and suggested that the money could come from the state's welfare-related budget.
"Social services has been growing at a rate faster than inflation at a time when welfare rolls are dropping," Kinder said.
Kinder said he has had capital improvement projects in his own district held up, but he supports the court's decision to refund the money to Missouri taxpayers.
"I know some of my colleagues are upset, but I don't share that view," he said. "I think it's good that the constitution was vindicated on that point," Kinder said.
Kinder's rival for Senate Pro tem, Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, disagreed with Kinder about the court decision. Quick said he thought the money in question did not fall under the Hancock Amendment because it was from a voter approved tax.
"That was passed by the citizens so they knew exactly what they were doing when they voted," Quick said.
As for dealing with the money gap in the interim, Quick said the funds would have to be set aside in case the state's appeal is rejected.
"If it's still in the appeals process, you'd have to set those funds aside so that if the appeal wasn't successful you'd have the funds to do what needs to be done," Quick said.