Rural lawmakers not that far apart on Prop A funding

Democrats and Republicans in the Missouri House had a lot of things to argue about last week, including Proposition A funding for education.
Budget Committee ranking Democrat Rachel Bringer D-Palmyra last week accused her Republican colleagues on the budget committee of moving an extra $108 million of gambling revenue intended for education into the general fund.
Although lawmakers did not cut education, Bringer contends that no new money is going towards education.
Bringer said voters were fooled again when they went to the polls much like when gambling arrived in Missouri in 1986 with the Missouri Lottery.
“It’s certainly a betrayal of the voter’s trust,” Bringer said. “During the Prop A campaign in November it was clearly stated to the voters again and again that this would be new money. Voters remember the switch that occurred with gambling a couple of decades ago when gambling came into the state.”
Bringer said she campaigned against Prop A because as an attorney, she didn’t believe the language was sufficient.
“I didn’t think there was sufficient language in the (ballot measure) to protect what the voters were intending,” she said. “I’m really disappointed that I was right. I was hopeful that I would be wrong but when the new budget bills were filed by the chairman, it’s not new money.”
House Education Appropriations Chairman Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, said Democrats are just using Prop A as a political grandstand much like the Governor’s plan to not cut funding to higher education institutions for a promise not to cut funding.
“Every other sentence that comes out of somebody’s mouth down here is a political ploy,” Thomson said.
Until the state’s new education formula goes into effect, many different funds are being used to appropriate funds to education. Thomson said he cannot detail were all of the money is going, but said it will fund education.
Thomson and Bringer however, do agree that both dislike the new funding formula. Under the formula, rural schools would see little or no increased funding from Prop A. Thomson said the formula looks at population growth and not population size.
“A lot of the schools in my area are held harmless and are not getting any money because they’re not growing,” Thomson said. “I would have liked to have seen some of it go to everybody and some to teacher salaries as well.”
Bringer agrees, however she says that federal stimulus money that can be used for education is being held up in the air by budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, because he has not filed the bill yet, leaving no room to debate. She says $108 million being shuffled off to the general fund can be used for the 2010 school year, which is partially funded under the old formula.
“It’s only funded at 84 percent,” Bringer said. “There’s clearly a place to put this $108 million. Put it into the old formula to raise that percentage up a little bit. That old formula was very beneficial to rural schools and it would be new money particularly for rural schools.”
Bringer said she hopes more bi-partisan efforts can be reached in the Senate and conference committees.
Thomson also agrees with Bringer the campaigning for Proposition A could be viewed as shady.
“I think they pulled one over on us there,” he said. “I knew it could be a problem. It was just the casino’s way of getting their own way by advertising it was for schools issue, not as a gambling issue.”
Thomson, like Bringer, also thinks the funding formula is not fair.
He said funding for education will hold steady this year but revenue streams need to increase next year or cuts will be in the future, although he is optimistic things will turn around next year.
“People are not getting cut because we’re trying to be hard on people,” he said. “The money just isn’t there.”
Rep. Bob Nance could not be reached for this story.

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