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Missouri legislature passes $51.7 billion budget, with complaints about lack of transparency

Fog rises off the Missouri River in front of the Missouri State Capitol building on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 3, in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Fog rises off the Missouri River in front of the Missouri State Capitol building on the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 3, in Jefferson City, Mo.

Lawmakers had until 6 p.m. Friday to pass the budget. The final product is roughly $1 billion less than Gov. Mike Parson proposed.

The Missouri legislature passed a $51.7 billion budget Friday, meeting a deadline that at times looked hard to reach.

Included in the budget is money for the state K-12 education funding formula, a 3.2% raise for state employees and a 3% increase in funding for the state’s public higher education institutions.

The House voted to pass all 16 bills that make up the budget for next year, along with a supplemental budget for the current fiscal year. The process took roughly four hours.

Lawmakers had until 6 p.m. Friday to pass the budget. Up until Thursday evening, the budget bills had yet to pass the Senate. The lack of time meant the House and Senate were unable to meet in conference committee to reach a compromise budget.

The inability to meet in conference, as well as this year’s budget process, drew the ire of House Democrats, who repeatedly spoke against it.

“This is not normal. And it is not transparent. And it is not good government,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.

House Budget Chair Cody Smith said the process this year should not be the norm.

“I would posit that it would very well be a different decision next time, and so I'm concerned about the precedent,” said Smith, R-Carthage. “I do feel great about where we're at here today. But that is not guaranteed if we start to adopt this process.”

Speaking after the Senate passed the budget Thursday evening, Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said it isn’t good policy to have a budget process in which one chamber “beats” the other in terms of priorities.

“My goal here was to craft a good fiscally responsible budget with our counterparts in the House. It was not about beating them into submission, because we get the budget later, and the conference committee is heavily weighted in our favor. That's not what it's about,” Hough said.

Hough also said considering the tight timeline, the final product is good.

Sen. John Rizzo, D-Independence, said that he was happy the legislature met its constitutional deadline but that the rushed process could have allowed mistakes.

“I think that a lot of times when things are rushed, you could risk a few weeks later finding out that you did something that's going to call a special session,” Rizzo said.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said while the budget is technically finished for this year, it is largely incomplete.

“All they really did was lowball the estimated costs of several state programs that everyone who is being honest about the situation knows will require substantially more spending authority to fully fund,” Quade said.

Quade said this means the legislature will have to fix the budget either in a special session this year or through a supplemental budget bill next year.

The budget for the upcoming fiscal year includes $47.5 billion in operations and $4.1 billion in spending on projects funded by the Federal American Rescue Plan Act.

States have until the end of this year to fully designate funding from ARPA. They will have through 2026 to spend it all.

Some of that money has been used for major improvement projects at colleges and universities, wastewater improvements and local projects.

Other spending within the budget included nearly $70 million for the state’s Career Ladder program, which is an optional program that provides teachers with more money, if they take on extra work that would not normally be compensated.

It also includes $361 million to fully fund the state’s school transportation commitment.

“We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of new money, record money for public education,” said Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel.

One of the largest areas of spending for the upcoming year is on transportation. Last year, $2.8 billion was allocated to expand Interstate 70 to three lanes in each direction. This year, the budget contains $727 million for improvements to Interstate 44.

“This piece of legislation … represents the single greatest investment in our state's transportation infrastructure network, I think in the history of the state,” Smith said.

Unlike the I-70 expansion, Parson did not request money for I-44, so it’s unclear if he will support it.

House Democrats expressed disappointment over what they felt was not enough funding for the state’s department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Mental Health.

Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Manchester, brought up millions of dollars spent on a variety of projects she felt instead could have been allocated for raises for home care workers who help people with disabilities.

“We're OK to fund these projects. But we're not willing to take people who have disabilities to provide them with the services that they need to function daily,” Lavender said.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, focused her comments on a lack of raises for workers in the state’s Children’s Division.

“We stand here and say, ‘We care about kids, we're doing enough here for the most vulnerable in our state.’ Well, that's a bunch of malarkey,” Nurrenbern said.

No Democrat voted for the bill funding the Department of Health and Seniors Services and Department of Mental Health.

Rep. John Black, R-Marshfield, said there is a difference between one-time expenditures and ongoing spending.

“We are limited in our expenditures to our income. This budget is based on the state's anticipated income,” Black said.

Quade said the legislature is spending one-time dollars on projects that should be funded through general revenue instead.

“We're doing that because the Republicans continue to cut taxes for the most wealthy in our state and our corporations, and they know that we cannot sustain it,” Quade said.

The budget now goes to Parson. Last year, he cut $555.2 million. He cited financial stability as the reason for the vetoes.

Speaking on Thursday, before the budget debate began in the Senate, Parson said that without any input from his office, the budget is problematic.

Smith said if Parson scrutinized the budget, he would find a lot of items in the budget that have been included in prior years.

“They do need to take their time, read the bills, understand the legislation. I'm happy to make myself available to explain legislative intent, as always,” Smith said.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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