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Nixon reveals new round of budget cuts

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 27, 2009 -  Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says he'll announce on Wednesday a new round of state budget cuts that he told the Beacon earlier will total "north of $100 million." 

But those cuts won't dramatically affect state aid to public schools, higher education or Missouri's prison system, the governor said in an interview Tuesday.

"Clearly, we're going to have to 'lean forward' one more time," the governor said, citing the state revenue figures released a few weeks ago that showed the state's income was running 10 percent below that of a year ago.

Although Nixon declined to get more specific, his decision to largely exempt two big chunks of state spending -- education and prisons -- means that Missouri's social services and other state-run operations will likely bear the brunt of his next round of cuts.

"I don't think it's fair to assume anything" about where the cuts will be made, Nixon said. "A lot of little pieces add up to big pieces."

The governor added that his "bottom line" is to make trims that will be least noticable to the public.

Nixon offered his assessment in an interview today, while in St. Louis to promote job-creation efforts at the region's community college system. His comments about budget cuts were in response to questions posed by the Beacon.

The governor said that as soon as he returned to Jefferson City, he planned to devote much of the rest of the day pouring over budget numbers -- particularly for October -- with state Budget Director Linda Luebbering.

"We're working on it tonight," Nixon said.

Particularly troubling, Luebbering said a few weeks ago, were the September income numbers -- down 16 percent from a year ago. State officials are hoping that the expected October decline is not as dramatic because the national economic crisis was well underway in October 2008.

Nixon noted that he already has made significant trims to the state's budget -- the first shortly after taking office in January, when he cut 1,200 state government jobs.

In June, the governor announced close to $500 million in budget cuts or temporary withholdings, a sizable chunk affecting the state's college/university system. Another $60 million in trims were made in August.

The governor said those earlier reductions meant that his latest round would not need to be as severe. "We got in very, very early'' when it became clear that state revenues were declining, he said.

Nixon re-emphasized that he has to make cuts since the state constitution requires that Missouri maintain a balanced budget by the end of its fiscal year, which runs from July 1 through next June 30.

"We've got to make sure our 'in go' balances our 'out go,' '' the governor said.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.