In the last few legislative sessions lawmakers have been faced with increasing challenges to create a state budget. Another great one awaits them when General Assembly convenes again on Wednesday.

Lawmakers return to the State Capital on Wednesday.

The last of the federal dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, about $400 million, went into the budget for fiscal year 2012. With none left to help shore up the new plan, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) says legislators will be tested. “What we’re looking at is kind of hitting part of that wall that we would have hit back then, but for all that money that the federal government borrowed and then sent out to the states. So this is the year that, I think, where we have to decide what our priorities are going to be.”

Schaefer says those priorities are clear, based on a provision in the Constitution. “Number one in that list is public debt, and that always is our first thing that we fund, but number two is public education. So, I think this is really the year that we need to demonstrate that we’re going to follow our constitutional responsibility and what the people of the state of Missouri have determined is a top priority, and that’s K through 12 and higher education.”

The House, the Senate and the Governor arrived at an estimate of projected revenue of 3.9 percent growth. Senator Schaefer thinks that is fairly accurate, and represents about $7.5 billion, or about $285 million more for fiscal year 2013 than 2012.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s first hearing of the new session is set for Tuesday, January 10.