A proposed Missouri state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 could move very quickly in the legislature this week.
Majority Republican leadership in the Senate hopes to take the budget bills, which the Senate budget committee passed last week, and approve them by Wednesday. Then representatives from the House and the Senate will meet in a conference and attempt to find a compromise between the two chambers’ versions of the budget. Leadership in each chamber says it hopes to have that underway by Thursday.
The Senate budget committee made significant changes to the spending plan it received from the House. Chief among them, it approved a plan developed by the committee’s chairman, Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) to lump together the budgets for three state agencies – the departments of Mental Health, Health and Senior Services, and Social Services – together into two separate groups. 6-percent was then cut from Social Services and 4-percent from the other two.
The plan also gives the departments flexibility in deciding for themselves how much to spend in each of its programs.
“We’re trying to balance out the needs of all Missourians, as opposed to what’s happened now really for the last six years or so, which is things were really all going towards one group as opposed to really balancing it out with all Missourians and the needs of all these programs, including public education,” Schaefer told Missourinet.
Schaefer said in the past six years, all increases in the state’s General Revenue fund growth has gone to expanding welfare programs, and yet money has still been taken from other programs including public education, to support those programs.
“You look at some of those lines … we’re talking about over $11-billion that gets spent by the State of Missouri on that,” said Schaefer. “You look at some of those lines in those programs which are $150-million lines, $500-million lines, and you look at what’s in that line compared to what they actually spent last year, and you’ll find there’s 20-, 30-, $50-million that they’re not even using, yet that’s money that once we allocate it to them can’t go anywhere else.”
Schaefer says even with the reductions, the proposal would still give those agencies more than they spent last year. The three agencies’ budgets add up to more than $11-billion, and Schaefer says the reductions saved about $130-million. Schaefer said $10.1-million of that has been proposed to go to K-12 education, in addition to what the House proposed using there.
“Where we stand right now is about a $70-million dollar surplus … we haven’t delivered a budget in this building in at least a decade that has that kind of a surplus,” said Schaefer.
Governor Jay Nixon (D) doesn’t think Schaefer’s plan is the right way to approach the budget.
“It’s important to remember that this would affect not only the $130-million [cut from those agencies] but also federal matching funds, meaning it’s about a $300-million cut,” Nixon told reporters. “That would affect seniors, Missourians with disabilities, abused and neglected children, foster kids, folks with mental illness. A $300-million cut in that area would be very difficult on those individuals that are in specific and dire need of those services.”
House Speaker John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country) said Schaefer had approached him with the plan, but Diehl offered no indication of how he or his chamber views it.
“I told him I wasn’t going to get into the prerogatives of his appropriations committee or what his body wishes to do,” Diehl told reporters.
The Republican-led legislature has made it a priority this session to get the budget passed out earlier in part, in hopes of being able to use its new powers under Amendment 10, passed by voters last year, to override the governor if he decides to withhold money in that budget.