January 17, 2002

House Speaker Pledges Education Will Be Top Priority In Tight Budget Year

Before any other budget item will be considered public education must be fully funded, said Speaker of the House Jim Kreider, D-Nixa, on the opening day of the 2002 session of the Missouri General Assembly. And he pledged funds from his own budget to get the job done.

"To fully fund public education, this body will lead by example," said Speaker Kreider in his opening day address to members of the Missouri House of Representatives. "As of today, the Missouri House of Representatives is proud to announce that by cutting travel, eliminating senior level jobs, and streamlining our operations, we have saved approximately $2 million from our own budget.

"And with this first step, we challenge the Missouri Senate and each department and agency to do their part."

In what promises to be a tight budget year in the face of declining state revenues, Speaker Kreider emphasized that "fully funding public education" would be his top priority, and must be accomplished before any other budget items could be considered. Out of a $19 billion state budget, he said, $12 billion is untouchable as part of state and federal mandates. Kreider noted that with potential budget cuts of $1 billion looming on the horizon out of $7 billion in discretionary expenditures, some hard decisions will have to be made.

"The fact is that everyone likes to say they want to cut fat, and on the campaign trail it is certainly popular to run against 'Big Government,'" said Speaker Kreider. "But when we get here and find out that cutting big government means someone gets fewer servicesthe enthusiasm for deep cuts fades away.

"Then it is not difficult to see why those campaigns to 'end Big Government' rapidly turn to promises to 'fight for working families.'"

The tight state budget will require the legislature to prioritize, Speaker Kreider said, and he emphasized that there is no greater priority than elementary and secondary education.

"The number one priority of the Missouri House is to fully fund the foundation formula for public education," said Speaker Kreider. "It is the very cornerstone of our democracy."

The 2002 legislative session began January 9 and concludes May 17. By law, the General Assembly must approve a state budget by May 10.

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