The Missouri Senate’s in the beginning stages of crafting a state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Governor Greitens had released his $9.4 billion spending plan in February. It included $572 million in cuts to state agencies and programs, with higher education taking the hardest hit.
The House finalized its budget earlier this month, which would spend slightly less than Greitens proposal. Now, the Senate has begun its process of churning through the numbers.
The chamber’s Appropriations Committee went through all items, line by line, Wednesday, making minor adjustments to the plan crafted by the House.
Republican panel Chairman Dan Brown of Rolla thinks the changes he’s made have been minor, but notes there are still funding issues that need to be resolved.
“There’s not really huge differences” said Brown. “I’m fully funding MOSERS (Missouri State Employee’s Retirement System), they did not. A lot of how we close out this budget has to do with whether or not Circuit Breaker tax credit passes or not. That is a huge pivot point.”
Circuit Breaker is a tax break for low income seniors who rent their residences. The program’s been repealed by the House, which has freed $56 million for other portions of the budget. But the money’s in limbo because the Senate has not yet to weigh in on the Houses repeal.
A couple of issues raised passions of Appropriations Committee members during Wednesday’s hearing. One concerned a prisoner re-entry program.
Chairman Brown chose to zero out its budget, which drew the ire of Democrat Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of allowing for those who are coming out of prison to reenter into society, and not have to deal with recidivism because they have no jobs, and no place to live, no place to work” said Nasheed. “This is dear to my heart. This is something I’ve been fighting for for the last 10 years, to make sure that we have the funding available for those that are coming out of prison.”
The Governor and the House both allocated $2 million for the program after the Department of Corrections chose to seek no money for it.
At the committee hearing, a department spokesperson noted the $2 million was actually still included in its request for funding, but had been moved to a different column in order to free up different ways for it to be applied.
Nasheed then said the department would support a resulting boost in funding, which the spokesperson affirmed. The Senate will determination whether to restore the $2 million after further discussion Friday or next week.
At another point in the hearing, Democrat committee member Kiki Curls of Kansas City took issue with the elimination of funding for a summer jobs program.
“The summer jobs program is something that’s very important to certain communities” Curls said. “When you have a bunch of kids, over the summer during the hot months when things tend to happen in communities, these kids are out working instead of hanging out doing other things potentially that some should not be doing.”
After Governor Greitens zeroed out the $8.5 million allocated for summer jobs, the House restored $6 million of its funding. As with the prison reentry program, the committee has tabled its decision until taking more time for discussions.
Overall, committee Chairman Brown thinks state’s financial picture looks good from the Senate’s standpoint, as long as other sources of funding are shored up, including a tobacco settlement.
“So we should get $50 million there, $56 million out of Circuit Breaker. That gives us a lot of relief. There’s a couple of other bills floating out there that could save us another $30-35 million, then that puts us on pretty good ground.”
Brown’s frustrated the budget wasn’t taken up earlier in this year’s session. He thinks it’ll be a tight squeeze getting the plan finalized for the governor by the statute required May 5th deadline.