The state House has sent the Senate a $24 billion dollar budget that Republicans say meets the priorities of the average Missourian, and Democrats say results from pitting priorities against one another.
The budget includes a two percent pay increase for state employees making less than $70,000 a year and a $20 million increase in funding for the state’s veterans homes. Republicans have said their top priority has been education, however, and Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) says they met that goal.
“The Governor has requested cuts to higher education every year he’s been in office, and we’re just not going to go along with that anymore. If you continue to cut away and cut away and cut away at higher education, before long you start cutting into your educated workforce. If you don’t have an educated workforce, how are you ever going to dig out of a depressed economy?”
The Governor’s budget proposal cut $106 million from higher education and the House Budget Committee restored that, in part by cutting the $28 million blind medical subsidy fund.
Budget Committee member Sara Lampe (D-Springfield) says the budget put lawmakers in unnecessarily tough positions. “We are making false choices because we have not addressed the revenue stream.”
She and other Democrats say lawmakers till have to get away from cutting along to balance the budget. They call on their Republican colleagues to entertain collection of taxes on internet sales or raising the tax on tobacco products.
An amendment offered by Representative Bert Atkins (D-Florissant) would have authorized the Department of Social Services to use a $50 million federal grant for computer system upgrades, but that was also rejected by the Republican majority for its ties to the federal healthcare plan.
Minority Floor Leader Mike Talboy (D-Kansas City) says at some point the legislature has to get away from putting important issues or people at odds in competing for budget dollars. “We do it with children and we do it with veterans, we do it with education and we do it with development. We do it now with the blind and higher education, or elementary and secondary education, because those were the two areas that you could cut money from to give back to the blind.”
The $24 billion dollar total budget figure does not represent a $1 billion increase over the governor’s $23 billion dollar proposal. The House Budget Committee removed 444 estimated budget amounts, referred to around the Capital building as “Es,” totaling just shy of the $1 billion dollar difference. Republicans and Democrats alike say this results in a more accurate reflection of what the state is spending.
What will happen in the Senate with the cut to the blind program remains unclear. Senate Leader Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) has said his chamber will reverse it, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says “everything must be on the table.”