Sunday, July 10, 2011
Crowell: Legislators focusing more on campaign contributions than protecting education
In his latest Crowell Connection, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, continues his discussion on the need to provide more money to fund education.
As part of our look into Missouri’s current budget situation, we previously examined where we are, where we are headed and some of the factors that have put us in this situation. In my opinion, the politicians have failed to act and instead pushed Missouri’s budget deficit off to the future. The past two annual budgets have been built on hundreds of millions of one-time federal stabilization and stimulus dollars, which are now gone. And while maintaining inflated state spending levels using these one-time federal bailout dollars, the state still spent more than it had.
In 2009, Missouri saw a revenue decline of -6.9% ($585 million) followed with another revenue decline in 2010 of -9.1% ($676 million). And while this past year, 2011, there was a modest gain of 5.93% ($401.9 million) from 2010, we are still $827.7 million below the 2008 high-water mark in revenues.
With these revenue declines as a warning, the state took limited steps to right size government to match revenues. In the past two sessions, the General Assembly:
·Passed reforms to the pension plans covering Missouri’s state employees and judges. Through the establishment of a new benefit tier for state employees and judges hired on or after January 1, 2011, pension reform legislation brought these Missouri pension plans into line with current economic realities and changes in the demographics of state employees. These reforms will save taxpayers more than $650 million over the next 10 years.
·Ended the free printing of State Manuals, known as the Blue Book, and stopped providing judges and General Assembly member’s free volumes of Missouri State Statutes saving taxpayers $1.7 million every two years.
·Merged Missouri’s Water Patrol and Highway Patrol into one law enforcement agency. With one law enforcement agency, taxpayer dollars were used more efficiently by deleting redundant systems and minimizing equipment and buildings being duplicated by both agencies, saving taxpayers an estimated $900,000 a year.
But those limited steps were not and are not enough. Even combined with $2.851 billion in one-time Federal Stabilization funds from 2009 to 2012 and another $1.861 billion in Federal Stimulus funds, Missouri did not fully fund the foundation formula for K-12 education by $23 million in 2009, another $74 million in 2011, and another $177 million in 2012. In total, K-12 education has not received $274 million it should have, according to the state foundation formula, in the last three years as well as over $60 million in cuts to transportation funding. Furthermore, Missouri’s funding for higher education is also being cut. In 2011, funding decreased by 10% followed by another 7% in 2012, totaling $186.5 million. This means Missouri’s universities and community colleges will have to find ways, most likely through tuition and fee increases, to cover an overall reduction in higher education funding of $306.8 million from the high-water mark of 2010. The politicians have said to you that education is their number one priority, but they have done very little in Jefferson City to prove it.
I believe we should not be asking our children to sacrifice their educational opportunities because Missouri government cannot find ways to spend your hard earned tax dollars more efficiently and effectively. The past three years have been a perfect opportunity for leaders to take bold actions in government spending that would have protected education from these cuts. Instead, the politicians in Jefferson City failed because they have been more focused on their next election and their campaign contributors than with the realities of today.
As we continue to discuss Missouri’s budget, I do not just want to point to missed opportunities. I also want to highlight future opportunities to make real reforms so that educational opportunities to our children can be protected. In the coming weeks, I will share with you common sense reforms that will put Missouri’s spending in line with our values. The answer is not found in raising taxes, or going into debt through bonding or even using the state’s rainy day fund. The answer is found by taking an honest approach to our priorities in how your money is spent and by passing legislative reforms that do not put special interests before our children’s educational opportunities. Now is the time for leaders to lead so that our children’s future does not continue to suffer the cost of our state’s backward spending priorities.