The Missouri General Assembly beat the Friday evening deadline to pass the $29.7 billion state budget, but took the long way there, with the Senate’s final vote coming at just after 2 a.m.
In a day dominated by tensions between the chambers, the House also made quick work of legislation that came up just Thursday that offers $50 million in tax incentives to General Motors. The automaker is considering a major expansion at its plant in suburban St. Louis.
The fiscal 2020 spending plan goes to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, and includes extra money for K-12 education, repairing roads and bridges across the state and pay increases for state employees.
For the first time in 10 years, the House took the rare step of rejecting a budget bill that conference committee negotiators agreed to earlier this week. House Republicans had objected to the removal of language barring state colleges and universities from charging in-state tuition to students who were brought to the U.S. as children illegally.
These students are also referred to as DACA students, after the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals policy instituted by President Barack Obama in 2012.
“Today, when we stood together and we said we were going to hold the House position and I told you all that if we do that, we will win, and we did,” House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith told members during the chamber’s final vote on the budget. “And I think there’s a tremendous lesson in that.”
Senators, including Kansas City Democrat Jason Holsman, held up passage of the higher education budget bill in response to the House’s action, but later yielded.
The Associated Press reported Missouri started its policy of having DACA students pay international tuition in 2015, and is one of only six states that blocks them from paying in-state tuition.
The debate over DACA overshadowed the general consensus on the budget from members of both parties.
“I think that we can feel good about the budget, there are things that I like to see different, but I think that overall, it’s in good shape,” said Rep. Kip Kendrick, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
Should General Motors decide on the expansion at its plan in Wentzville, west of St. Louis, the state would give the automaker $5 million in tax credits annually over 10 years. But to receive the money, manufacturers would have to invest at least $500 million in plant updates and commit to retaining jobs. Lawmakers stressed the provision would not only benefit GM, but other automakers as well (the language in the bill doesn’t specifically single out GM).
“I am confident that this will not only show GM here tonight, but it will show the rest of the business world that Missouri is open for business,” said GOP Rep. Nick Schroer of St. Charles County, where Wentzville is located.
The GM incentives were attached to a workforce development bill that had already passed the Senate and includes several of the governor’s priorities, including the “Fast Track” scholarship program for adult workers seeking another degree or more skills training.
“Missouri will soon have the tools to compete and win big for jobs and growth across the entire state,” Parson said in a statement.
Several conservative Republicans split with their party and joined Democrats in opposing the legislation due to concerns over giving tax breaks to such a large corporation. They wanted stronger requirements that GM keep the jobs in Missouri. Some conservatives have also opposed the “Fast Track” program.
Though it took several minutes for the House to get enough votes for the legislation to pass, it now heads to the Senate for consideration.
What else the General Assembly did this week
The chambers passed some bills on key issues, but also made changes requiring further action.
Low-Income Housing Tax Credits: The House voted to advance a bill on low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) aimed at restarting the program, which was suspended in 2017 by ex-Gov. Eric Greitens. The Senate passed a similar bill earlier this session, which added a cap of roughly $120 million for the program. House members made more changes aimed at accountability, such as the creation of a scoring system to evaluate the merits of each project.
“My gauge on this program is not that most people do not like this program, I think the gauge is that most people like the program but we want to ever strive for more efficiency,” said Rep. David Gregory, R-St. Louis, who sponsored the bill in the House. “We want to get the cost per unit down, we want to build more units for cheaper.”
The Senate must sign off on the changes before it goes to the governor.
Sports complex funding: The Truman Sports Complex in Kansas City, home to the Kansas City Royals and Chiefs, would continue to get $3 million in annual spending through 2029. Without the bill, the money would have stopped this year.
The bill also extends $2 million in state funding for the Kansas City Convention Center (Bartle Hall). And for the first time, Missouri would fund improvements at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, where the Blues play; the Senate added language that would require the owners of the center to pay back the money if the Blues were to ever relocate.
“I’d brought it up to the sponsor and talked to the proponents of the bill and kind of shaped it in a way that’s agreeable to everybody,” GOP Sen. Paul Wieland of Jefferson County said. “So it protects the taxpayers but keeps the deal from going forward.”
The converse is true for this bill: The House must sign off on changes before it goes to the governor.
What else is left
The 2019 session ends at 6 p.m., May 17, meaning lawmakers still may consider a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, instituting the nation’s last statewide prescription drug monitoring program, and a resolution that would roll back changes to the legislative redistricting process passed by voters last year. If the redistricting proposal passes, voters would decide whether to go along with the plan.
This story was updated at 2 p.m., May 10.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews