Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks about the $50.8 billion state budget passed Friday during a news conference with Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden. (Photo by Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent)

by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent, and Daily Citizen staff

With just about an hour to spare before the constitutional deadline, Missouri lawmakers on Friday approved a record state budget of almost $51 billion that increases pay for highway patrol troopers and direct care workers and one of the biggest boosts in years for higher education.

The $50.7 billion spending plan headed to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk is $1.3 billion more than he proposed in January and $2.2 billion more than the House-approved budget. It exceeds the budget approved in last year’s session by $1.7 billion.

A large portion of the difference is adoption of the Senate plan for widening Interstate 70. Parson initially proposed spending $859 million to add lanes to a 55-mile stretch of the east-west interstate highway, a proposal the House supported but that the Senate increased to $2.8 billion.

At a news conference after the Senate votes, Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough said Missourians should see work on the project begin later this year.

“I imagine there’s going to be a pretty expedited effort on MoDOT and the (Office of Administration)… to start working together and getting that moving,” Hough said.

Hough, R-Springfield, was a key player in the budget negotiations. In a news release, he called the final version “a responsible budget that attempts to address a variety of issues while maintaining a healthy bottom line of cash reserves for possible economic shortfalls in the future.”

Hough singled out action to upgrade and widen Interstate-70 from Blue Springs to Wentzville as a key to attracting new businesses and boosting the economy, but noted the budget included funds for other bridges, local roads and highways, including planning for future expansion of I-44.

According to press releases from local legislators, among Springfield area items included in the budget were:

  • $8 million for the Jefferson Avenue footbridge repair project.
  • $4.7 million for fast-track programs at Ozarks Technical Community College and Missouri State University to help nontraditional students finish earning degrees in need-based careers.
  • $5 million for a new youth mental health facility in Springfield.
  • $4 million for the Jordan Valley Community Health Center.
  • $2.5 million for a bridge at Fellows Lake.

The big-ticket spending items are possible because of the massive state surplus accumulated in the general revenue fund and other accounts in the treasury. At the end of April, there was $5.4 billion in the general revenue fund, 16 times more than the same date five years ago.

General revenue growth rates dipped below 10% in April for the first time since late 2020. Since the start of the month, revenue growth has been strong and the surplus, projected in January to be $5 billion on June 30, could exceed that amount by as much as $1.2 billion if growth remains strong.

Some of the highlights of the budget going to Parson include:

  • $233 million to fully fund public school transportation for the second consecutive year, $56 million to expand pre-kindergarten programs and $78 million to increase child care subsidy payments.
  • Funding boosts to higher education that include a 7 percent increase in institutional funding, plus projects that include a new veterinary hospital and a research slaughterhouse at the University of Missouri.
  • $25 million for the Department of Transportation to do environmental studies on Interstate 44 and U.S. 63 and $50 million to improve safety at railroad crossings along with the $2.8 billion for I-70.
  • $30 million to support the fund paying for operations at veterans nursing homes. The homes were funded in the past from casino boarding fees, but far fewer people are visiting gambling boats than in the past.
  • $250 million to boost pay for direct care aides and $32 million to increase funding for area agencies on aging.
  • $50 million for improvements at Arrowhead Stadium in advance of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

The budget going to Parson restored funding for public libraries cut in the House and removed language barring diversity, equity and inclusion programs in state agencies or among state contractors. 

Lawmakers approved an 8.7% pay raise for state workers this year, and gave employees of the Missouri State Highway Patrol another 11.3% boost in the budget passed Friday.