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Nixon, legislative leaders agree on state income estimate for 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 23, 2010 - They've got a long way to go before agreeing on a 2012 budget, but Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican legislative leaders have settled on how much they think they'll have to spend.

Nixon, soon-to-be state Senate chief Rob Mayer (now the Appropriations Committee chairman) and House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey announced late Wednesday that they've agreed on a "consensus revenue estimate'' of $7.295 billion for the fiscal year that begins next July 1.

That's barely an increase from this year's (FY 2011) consensus revenue estimate of $7.223 billion, announced a year ago.(As of November 30, the state has collected general revenue totalling $2.8 billion, which is up slightly from the year before.)

The estimate for the coming fiscal year assumes growth of about 4 percent, officials say, up slightly from the 3.5 percent growth that the state is experiencing so far for this fiscal year.

Still, both figures are well above the income declines that the state saw for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, during the economic downturn.

To get a sense of how bad Missouri's money problems have been, the projected income estimate for FY 2012 is about $700 million less than what the state collected in fiscal year 2008 -- the last year when times were good.

According to the release sent out by Nixon's office:

"Budget planners believe modest revenue growth is likely in FY 2012 as the national economy recovers from the worst recession since the 1930s. The national economic picture is beginning to brighten and there is reason to believe the economy will continue to improve despite lingering uncertainties. As a result, employment gains are expected to accelerate next year, and consumer spending will increase accordingly. However, the national recovery may be hampered by ongoing concerns in the global financial sector."

Nixon, Mayer and Silvey all issued statements signaling their general agreement.

"By continuing to work together in a bipartisan fashion, we will ensure Missouri's budget remains balanced and (will) make the right investments to preserve vital services for our citizens and move our economy forward," Nixon said. "I appreciate the hard work of Sen. Mayer and Rep. Silvey that has made this agreement possible."

"Revenue forecasts call for a leaner state budget, and difficult decisions will need to be made this session," Mayer said. "However, Gov. Nixon, the House and the Senate will continue to work diligently toward a fiscally responsible Missouri budget."

"Even with a positive (consensus revenue estimate) for the 2012 budget, the state still faces financial challenges to meet our constitutional responsibility of a balanced budget," Silvey said. "I look forward to working with the governor and the Senate to achieve that end."

Nixon will outline his proposed budget for FY 2012 during his State of the State address in late January. The state House and Senate will then spend months going through his proposal, and then assembling a budget that may or may not be in line with what the governor had proposed.

By law, state officials must have a budget in place by early May. And unlike the federal budget, Missouri's budget must be balanced.

The 2012 budget will be the first one in years without significant federal help -- one of the reasons Missouri could balance its budget with less pain than in many other states. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering has said that new budget will have to take into account the lack of $700 million in federal aid that Missouri received for the current fiscal year.

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