The state House and Senate have approved a $26.3-billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The proposal goes to Governor Jay Nixon (D) for his consideration the day before the legislature’s deadline.
Legislators based their spending proposal on a projection revenue in Fiscal Year 2015 would grow by 4.2-percent. Nixon’s administration projected growth at 5.2 percent in the budget proposal he presented the legislature in January. Because of that disagreement the legislature proposes drawing money for some state programs and services out of a new surplus revenue fund, where money that comes in beyond its revenue projection would go.
The proposal would increase funding to public school districts by $114.8 million, but if Governor Nixon’s higher projection proves accurate, K-12 education would get an additional $278-million on top of the current $3.1-billion in state support.
Either outcome would put state support for education below the amount needed to fund schools as required by state law. That would require an increase of more than $550-million.
Representative Margo McNeil (D-Florissant) criticized the decision to go with the lower revenue projection, and says the budget does not go far enough for education.
“We should have decided for a higher number. We should have prioritized education more,” said McNeil. “I’m going to be voting against this budget because basically we’re not putting our priorities where we should be.”
Representative Mike Thomson (R-Maryville) says the budget includes the biggest increases in state history for education and higher education.
“We have gone way above what was expected, I think, for education funding,” said Thomson. “This body gets accused a lot of picking on education, of not fully funding the formula and not doing the best we can, and I would like to point to these numbers and say this is a very good effort, the best we could do.”
Public colleges and universities would get an increase of $43-million to be distributed based on the meeting of performance goals.
The legislature has built into the budget a plan to pay for the replacement of the state’s only maximum-security mental hospital, Fulton State Hospital. The 25-year bonding proposal would cover the cost of buidling the new hospital, estimated at $211-million. The first payment on those bonds of $14-million is included in the proposed budget.
It also includes $1.5-million for renovation of the Women’s Building at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia and $2-million to rebuild levees protecting Rosecrans Air National Guard Base in St. Joseph.
The plan includes an across-the-board 1-percent pay raise for state employees. Child abuse caseworkers within the Department of Social Services would get an additional two-to-three percent increase in salary, as part of $5.1-million aimed at recruiting and retaining good investigators and improving the state’s response to reports of child abuse.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) said of the Children’s Division increases, “That’s one of the most important parts of this budget.”
The highest “no” vote totals in the House came on the budgets for the Departments of Mental Health, Health and Senior Services, and Social Services, as Democrats objected to those bills not including expansion of Medicaid eligibility using federal dollars.
Representative Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City), called that exclusion disappointing.
“I do believe, though, one day the General Assembly will wise up and will rise up and we will vote for Medicaid expansion,” said Morgan. “I just wished it were sooner than later and that’s why I will be voting ‘no’ on this bill.”
Representative Noel Torpey (R-Independence), who participated in a committee that traveled the state taking testimony on Medicaid expansion in the interim, said he hopes that the legislature will act to reform and expand Medicaid.
“I ask that we keep an open mind when discussing this issue in the future,” said Torpey. “At some point in time it’s going to become law, so why not sooner than later?”
The legislature’s proposed budget would increase spending by 6.4-percent, compared to the Governor’s budget proposed in January that would have increased state spending by 11.6 percent.