House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith watches debate on the $49 billion state budget Friday. (Photo by Tim Bommel/Missouri House Communications)

by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent

The largest budget in Missouri history passed with relative ease Friday, in part because the final version was larger than the spending plans passed earlier in either the House or Senate.

The total, just over $49 billion, includes big increases for school transportation, help for colleges and universities in the form of bigger budgets and more generous scholarships, nearly $1 billion to increase payments to medical and personal care providers and a $500 million plan for tax rebates.

The budget for the current year, including a supplemental spending bill passed Friday, is $40.9 billion.

The general revenue portion – money that comes mostly from income and sales taxes – is $13.5 billion, up from $11 billion in the current fiscal year.

The only seeming uncertainty  in the rapid series of votes that sent the 17 appropriation bills to Gov. Mike Parson came on the bill allocating $2.9 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. After the Senate held its last vote of the day, the chamber went into recess in case more work was needed.

And despite griping among House members that they did not get the chance to load the bill up with pet projects, as the Senate did with 67 earmarked items, the bill passed the House 114-16 with 13 members voting “present.”

“We let the Senate go to the buffet and all we got were the croutons on the salad,” said state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis.

It wasn’t a satisfying process but it did produce a palatable product, said state Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, who chaired an interim committee that looked at how the money should be spent.

“Is it something that is going to put Missouri in a very good place for the next 40 or 50 years with some of these transformative projects? Yes.” Richey said during debate.

The $49 billion total includes $500 million set aside for a tax rebate program, about half of what the House had sought. Excluding that item, the budget is about $30 million less than the budget proposals sent to lawmakers by Gov. Mike Parson.

The House budget spent just under $48 billion, while the Senate plan was just under $49 billion. The final budget was about $1.1 billion above the House and $60 million over the Senate tally.

Missouri has unprecedented amounts of surplus general revenue, and the tax rebate program will send up to $500 to individual income tax filers and up to $1,000 to married couples filing a combined return. To be eligible, filers must have an income less than $150,000 a year for individuals and $300,000 for married couples.

State revenues are growing at a strong pace as well and seem likely to generate as much as $2 billion in additional surplus revenue by the end of fiscal 2023.

“When we come back to session next year, we will have a surplus in the state treasury and if we are in the same situation, I will advocate for taxpayers to get that back,” Smith said.

Major items in the budget include:

  • $2.5 billion to pay for expanded eligibility under the Medicaid program.
  • $925 million to increase payments to providers serving people with developmental disabilities, nursing home patients and those who need help to remain in their homes through the Medicaid program.
  • $461 million for construction projects on 13 four-year university campuses, community colleges and the State Technical College of Missouri, paid from federal COVID-19 aid. Each school is expected to match the state’s contribution to the construction plan.
  • $411 million for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades, including projects to eliminate lead service lines.
  • $250 million to expand broadband internet access for homes and businesses in remote locations.
  • $214 million to fully fund the state’s share of public school transportation costs.

There were also smaller appropriations that satisfied long-standing requests. Lincoln University, for the first time in its history, will receive a state appropriation large enough to match all the available federal land-grant funding. And four-year universities with pensions provided by the Missouri State Employees Retirement System, or MOSERS, received help with paying for the annual increase in contribution rates.

The budget also sets aside $500 million for a deposit in the MOSERS fund to lessen the need for future contribution increases.

Most of the budget bills received fewer than a dozen “no” votes in the House and fewer than half-dozen “no” votes in the Senate. In previous years, Democrats, who have fewer than one-third of the seats in each chamber, would vote in large numbers against the bills.

“I think this is my first year in the House where I will be voting for all the budget bills,” said state Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, who is in his sixth year in the legislature. “This is by far the best budget this state has seen, maybe ever, but certainly my time being aware of it.”

The bills spending Medicaid funds had the most votes in opposition, mainly because of provisions seeking to block Planned Parenthood from providing taxpayer-supported family planning services. But for Democrats who oppose that language, funding the Medicaid expansion program made it tough to cast a “no” vote.

In the House, the Department of Social Services budget passed 96-21 with 32 members voting present. In the Senate, the bill passed 22-10.

“We’re going to have people that are not able to access the birth control that they need because they don’t have another place to go yet,” said state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, “and they will perhaps be the victim of an unintended pregnancy.”

And while conservative Republicans may be expected to oppose a budget that anticipates spending 65% more than the state did two years ago, the increases help businesses that provide health care and schools in significant ways.

Some Republicans warned that the budget spends too much surplus in ongoing programs. Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said cuts may be coming in future years because of the way one-time funding sources were used.

“We’ll have to make some tough decisions next year and the year beyond,” Hoskins said.

There were some disappointments as well, mainly because of political opposition. Parson’s proposal to spend $70 million to develop a new state trail in the Rock Island railroad corridor didn’t win approval and neither did a request from Attorney General Eric Schmitt for an increase of $500,000 to his office budget.

The Rock Island Trail has strong support from environmental and recreational groups and opposition from landowners along the corridor and the Missouri Farm Bureau.

“We just had numerous House members and Senators that really had problems moving that forward,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said at a post-session news conference.

More than 150 earmarked appropriations also made it through to the final budget, including almost 100 in the regular operating budget in addition to those in the budget for American Rescue Plan funds.

Parson has been quick to veto money he didn’t recommend, and so every group funded in the budget must now wait until late June to find out whether they will actually receive the money.

Tessa Weinberg of The Independent staff contributed to this report.

Missouri Independent

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