Missouri Revenue Department cuts may be permanent
03/01/2014 3:51 PM
03/01/2014 3:52 PM
The budget cuts legislators imposed last year on the Missouri Department of Revenue likely will remain in place, even though the drivers’ license controversy that sparked them has been resolved through a new law.
Gov. Jay Nixon isn’t asking lawmakers to restore the funding for the remainder of this budget year, nor is he asking for the funding to be placed in the state budget that begins in July.
Lawmakers last year voted to reduce the 2014 budget of the department’s licensing division by almost $700,000 in an attempt to block the agency from scanning driving applicants’ birth certificates and other documents into a state computer database.
During last year’s budget process, lawmakers said they would restore the department’s funding if it stopped scanning the documents by the time the Legislature returned this January. After that, Nixon signed legislation last summer that prohibits the department from using the scanning procedures.
But without the governor asking for more money, the licensing department’s budget cuts likely will remain in place.
House and Senate budget writers intended to give the licensing division partial funding to last only for the first eight months of the budget year. But State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the administration treated the budget cut as permanent and isn’t requesting additional money to finish out the year.
Nixon last year denounced the eight-month funding plan as “irresponsible” and a threat to Missouri’s financial stability. Now the Democratic governor’s decision to leave the cuts in place is raising concern among Republicans.
“It certainly begs the question of why they needed that money in the first place,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood.
Revenue Department spokeswoman Michelle Gleba said the funding loss caused the department to close a walk-in customer service window in Jefferson City that car dealers used to renew their tags. Luebbering said the cuts also caused the department to leave some vacant staff positions unfilled.
Stream said the House Budget Committee was still deliberating on how much money to provide the Revenue Department for the 2015 budget.
Republican lawmakers cut the department’s budget after they discovered licensing clerks had made electronic copies of people’s personal documents such as birth certificates and concealed gun permits. Legislators asserted the policy was an invasion of privacy, while Revenue Department officials argued the procedure would cut down on fraud.
The budget cuts weren’t the only fallout from the controversy that resulted in legislative hearings and investigations throughout the year. The Revenue Department no longer has a hand in concealed weapons permits, which are now processed exclusively by county sheriffs.
The only increase recommended by Nixon in the licensing division’s 2015 budget is a government-wide 3 percent pay raise for state employees that would take effect next January. Two years ago, the agency received $1.9 million in annual funding and would get $1.2 million under Nixon’s recommendation for the next fiscal year.
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