Missouri House now wants to use federal stimulus for tax rebates

JEFFERSON CITY | In a reversal from just days ago, House Republicans now want to direct federal stimulus money toward tax rebates for all Missourians rather than pork projects across the state.

That's what House Speaker Ron Richard, a Joplin Republican, told reporters this morning. His caucus will discuss the details of the plan in meetings today and perhaps through the weekend.

As much as $1 billion of the federal stimulus could be refunded to taxpayers, he said. Another $500 to $700 million may be saved for next year, and a few spending projects likely will move forward as well.

The plan contrasts sharply with the stimulus spending bills approved in the House Budget Committee earlier this week, which spent more than $2.2 billion on construction, infrastructure repairs and pet projects across the state.

"The budget committee did a nice job, but our caucus is not willing to spend all that money," Richard said."We believe -- and this is the opinion of more than half -- that we probably overspent, overreached on frivolous spending."

Concerns from fiscal conservatives began bubbling up yesterday, when party leaders had sought to move the bills onto the floor for debate.

Prime Buzz described those concerns here .

Specifics for the tax rebate are still unformed, Richard said. He couldn't say if it would be a simple check -- for, say, $1 billion divided by the number of Missouri residents -- or based on taxes paid or something else.

Offhand, Richard suggested each taxpayer might see a rebate of $500.

Another $500 to $700 million might be held in reserve for the next fiscal year, Richard said. That may come in handy, as state budget officials have said recently that even next year's anemic 1-percent growth projection may be too rosy given the depth of the recession.

As for spending projects, a few will go forward. At the top of the list is a new statewide law-enforcement communications system, which is currently budgeted at $111.7 million. Richard also said he'd like to see money put toward maintenance on college campuses, job-creation programs and ethanol payments.

Much remains uncertain about how this shift will affect the budget process currently underway and how it will evolve in the days ahead. Lawmakers must present a budget to Gov. Jay Nixon by May 8, a scant nine legislative days away.

Whatever the House does will have to wind through a similar process in the Senate. It's unclear so far what Senate budget leaders think of the new proposals. And Nixon, of course, would have the final say on whether to approve the spending plans.

Stay with Prime Buzz as this story develops through the day.