IN THE BALANCE: MISSOURI IS GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW AMENDMENT WORKS Series: Balancing the Budget: Amending the Constitution SECOND of FIVE in an Occasional Series

By Jim Gallagher Of The Post-Dispatch | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), March 2, 1997 | Go to article overview

IN THE BALANCE: MISSOURI IS GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW AMENDMENT WORKS Series: Balancing the Budget: Amending the Constitution SECOND of FIVE in an Occasional Series


Jim Gallagher Of The Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


WANT TO KNOW how a balanced budget amendment works? Look to Jefferson City.

The Missouri Constitution has an iron-clad amendment forbidding the state from spending more than it takes in.

If tax revenues fall behind expectations, the state starts to chop. That's what happened in 1991 and 1992, when a recession took a bite out of tax revenues while sending welfare rolls to record heights. In the midst of that, a federal judge ordered the state to pay $50 million for school desegregation in Kansas City. The state canceled free flu shots for 157,000 people. The University of Missouri reduced classes. State workers went without raises. Most departments were told to cut spending by 15 percent. The state shuttered a mental hospital in Nevada. It closed schools for the handicapped, forcing children into hour-long bus rides. The Department of Corrections even rationed toilet paper for inmates. That prompted the National Organization for Women to donate 360 rolls to the Renz women's prison. Affected citizens howled in protest. The state cut anyway. Wall Street rewarded Missouri with a AAA credit rating. Easier To Do Right Missouri's balanced budget amendment makes it easier for governors and legislators to make the right decisions, says Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who was governor when the state had to make cuts. "A balanced budget requirement takes a lot of the pressure off people in government," he said. "It was never difficult to explain to people why I wasn't spending money I didn't have." The requirement also forces the state to become more efficient, he said. The state found, he said, that the mentally ill could be served better in the community than in the big Nevada hospital. Another example: the state moved its immunization program to target children at age 2 rather than 6. Preventing disease earlier saves both money and suffering, Ashcroft said. Illinois Loopholes Every state but Vermont has a law or constitutional provision requiring balanced budgets. In general, they're honored, says Ron Snell of the National Conference of State Legislatures. But the state requirements don't work exactly the way the federal proposal would. For example, the states treat operating and capital expenses differently. …

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