October 31, 2014

House and Senate leaders spar on why budget conference is being held up

The state Constitution requires that the new budget be sent to the Governor by a week from today, but the House-Senate Conference Committee has yet to start formal work on it. Leaders from both chambers have very different takes on why that is.

Representative Ryan Silvey (left, courtesy: Missouri House Communications) and Senator Rob Mayer (right)

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) says the Senate has to pass veterans home funding before the conference committee can know how much money it has to budget. The House on Wednesday passed a bill to pay for veterans services with casino boarding fees, and early childhood programs with tobacco settlement money.

Silvey says the House has told the Senate twice that the proposal is ready, and says he’s “baffled” that the Senate hasn’t acted on it. “Clearly (Senate President Pro-Tem) Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) is playing games with veterans and children. It’s disappointing … it’s frustrating.”

Mayer says he isn’t aware of any messages from the House about that bill, SB 498. “What I was told … that (the House was) going to take the bill back and try to … put some additional language on that the Senate had requested.”

House leadership says that is not the case.

Mayer says he’s confident veterans funding will be addressed by the end of the session on May 18, even if it isn’t done by the budget deadline, May 11.

“In the past years we have taken up the budget and passed it prior to legislation being passed and approved.”

Mayer says he’s more concerned with how the budget work is being done.

“Why have all these backdoor, behind-the-scenes discussions? Why not have openness and transparency and go through each line item that is conferenceable [sic] and explain the Senate position and the House position, let the general public hear what’s going on and the reasons for the level of funding or lack of funding or the elimination of funding.”

Mayer adds, “This makes the second year in a row that for some reason, the junior budgeter in the House doesn’t want to have public conference committee hearings. I don’t understand it.”

Silvey questions the Senator’s memory.

“Apparently he doesn’t remember being appropriations chair with Chairman (Allen) Icet, because we’re not doing anything differently that hasn’t been done for decades in this building. And, (our budget plans) will all be public (at the conference committee’s next meeting) on Monday.”

Mayer says Silvey is mistaken when he says how the current budget conferees are operating is the way he did it when he was in their position.

“I know that you have to have some discussions to work out some of the details outside of the actual public hearing process, but at the end of the day … we always had conference committee hearings. We never failed to have conference committee hearings.”

The budget conference committee will meet again on Monday.  When asked if it has a plan ready in case a veterans home funding plan isn’t passed, Silvey says, “Not yet, but we will.”