JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Eric Greitens announced the first of his expected budget withholdings Monday afternoon in a Facebook Live stream. A week after coming into office, Greitens said he had learned the extent of the state’s budget woes and the state would need to make roughly $700 million in cuts over the next 18 months, laying the blame on former Gov. Jay Nixon’s shoulders.
“We realize now just how dire our budget situation is,” he said. “The budget we’ve inherited from the previous administration is not balanced. It’s now my responsibility to balance the budget.”
Greitens added a lack of revenues from slow economic growth and increased health care costs had caused the need for withholds. Gov. Jay Nixon had usually criticized the General Assembly for cutting taxes with no real way of making up for the cuts in revenue.
“This combination of a bad business climate and costly Obamacare has hit our state’s bank account hard, and I’m not going to let the failure of past career politicians and lobbyists jeopardize our state’s future,” he said.
Nixon previously had withheld about $210 million in the last three months of his administration. Greitens’ cuts Monday amounted to over $146 million.
The withholds were varied and widespread across almost the entire government, and at first glance, the Department of Higher Education took the largest hit. One withhold alone was a restriction of $55.9 million from funding for all four-year schools, and another $11.9 million will be cut from the state’s community colleges. Another $3 million was taken from the A+ school program, though Greitens said it would not affect the number of scholarships granted.
Though Greitens said in the stream the withholds would not affect K-12 classrooms, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education was hit as well. $8.6 million was withheld from DESE’s transportation budget and $2 million was cut from performance-based assessments with a note that it would not affect ACT testing for high-school juniors.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty criticized Greitens’ move to cut so much from education, noting more than 60 percent of the cuts came from higher or elementary and secondary education.
“Governor Greitens has chosen to balance the state budget by slashing more than $90 million in education spending,” she said. “Weakening public education won’t grow Missouri’s economy or create jobs.”
The Department of Mental Health, one of Nixon’s priorities, was also hit with roughly $7 million in withholds. Another notable restriction was the $1.9 million cut to port capital improvements. A full list of withholds can be read here.
The budget restrictions are little surprise for anyone involved in the process; House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick said in November that $200 million in restrictions would be needed by the end of FY 2017, and Greitens’ cuts Monday made up about three-fourths of that amount. However, the other primary budget concern for Greitens and the legislature is when exactly Greitens will give his recommendations to the General Assembly. Usually, the governor presents his budget priorities in the State of the State address and presents their recommendations shortly thereafter, but Greitens has already said he will not discuss his budget priorities in the speech.
Regardless of if and when more withholds come, Greitens restated his commitment to maintaining the state’s AAA credit rating.