The next step in the legislative budget process is for the House and Senate to work out the differences between their two budget proposals, and there are some big differences.
The biggest is that the senate adopted the proposal of its budget committee chairman, Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), to lump together in two pools the money for the Departments of Mental Health, Health and Senior Services, and Social Services, and to cut 4- to 6-percent from them. He also proposed giving those agencies more flexibility to decide where it would spend the money they are appropriated.
That’s a drastic shift in how those agencies are funded, but Schaefer says those agencies’ year-to-year increases have prevented money from going to other things, like education, for years, and he’s willing to fight for his plan.
“I’m adamant in the fact that we’re going to rein in welfare growth. We still provided the department more than they spent last year, but we’re going to rein in that growth,” Schaefer told reporters.
House budget committee vice-chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the House only began looking at that proposal Tuesday, and hasn’t decided what position the House’s budget conferees will take when they meet with their Senate counterparts.
“To be quite honest with you, I’m still getting meetings organized, trying to figure out exactly what all the changes entail and what the impact of those changes are,” Fitzpatrick told Missourinet.
Kansas City Democrat representative Jeremy LaFaver says Schaefer’s plan gives up legislative budget power.
“We can argue about yay, nay on little programs, but from a procedural standpoint the biggest piece that the legislature has to do is make sure that the governor, or the executive, spends money the way we’re asking them to,” said LaFaver on the House Floor, Wednesday. “To do something in a block grant like this just completely throws out any fiscal oversight that we ever have, over the two biggest budgets.”
St. Louis Republican representative Marsha Haefner chairs the budget subcommittee that deals with those three agencies. She is concerned those 4- and 6-percent cuts run deep.
“Cutting a budget by 4-percent makes really good fiscal sense but there are some items in that bill that we have worked long and hard to improve in the mental health community, such as behavioral health centers for children and adults, prevention and treatment, our state hospitals, our habitation centers, and our developmentally disabled community,” Haefner told fellow lawmakers. “A 4-percent cut on these programs alone would be catastrophic.”
Those changes affect more than just the budgets for those three agencies. For example: $10.1 million that Schaefer cut from them was added to the Senate’s proposed funding for K-12 education.
The House and Senate have named the budget conferees for each of the 13 budget bills. Republican leadership wants the budget bills out of conference and passed on to the governor by the end of next week.