There’s now confidence that lawmakers in Jefferson City will meet a deadline to complete a state budget. At this point, they’re trying to ensure the final product can withstand fluctuations in the supply of money and thus, avoid painful cuts in the next year.
Republican Governor Eric Greitens withheld $146 million shortly after taking office in January, while previous Democratic Governor Jay Nixon held back a total of $200 million in 2016
A week ago, cobbling together a spending plan seemed uncertain after Republican Senator Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph ground his chamber to a halt with a one man filibuster.
But the Senate approved a budget with relative ease over two days this week, which makes House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) rest easier.
“There’s a lot of suspicion that some of the folks who were frustrated in the Senate were going to try to target the budget, and it appears that they have not done that yet” said Fitzpatrick. “Now, they could still do it…because the Senate will have a vote on the budget again before it’s all said and done. But I feel better now than I did a week ago for sure.”
Now that the Senate’s completed its initial portion of the budget writing process, members of both chambers will enter into a conference committee to hash out differences between the houses. And at the get-go, Fitzpatrick contends the Senate budget is out of balance by a substantial sum.
“It’s certainly more than $50 million. I can tell you that with 100% certainty. There’s no question that it’s more than $50 million. I think that almost certainly more than $100 million. I don’t know if it quite elevates to $150 million or not.”
Fitzpatrick’s Senate counterpart, Dan Brown (R-Rolla), thinks the figure is somewhat less, but won’t say how much.
Brown notes part of the discrepancy is the fact that the Senate is fully funding the state employee retirement fund while the House is not.
“I really believe that we really need to keep up to date on funding the retirement program” said Brown. “There are so many thousands of Missourians dependent upon that. I don’t want to see that fund get behind and get in trouble.”
Fitzpatrick thinks there’s likely a great deal of hidden costs in the Senate’s numbers that’ll contribute to it being out of balance.
“There could be things that they did that make their budget look smaller than it really is. And those are the things we have to identify and uncover so we can see what the real differences are.”
One way to hide the true cost of an item in Missouri budgets is to place an “E”, which stands for estimate, at the end of a spending figure on a spreadsheet.
Fitzpatrick notes that with one expenditure, the Senate budget allocates $1 followed by an “E”, while the House spending plan allots $25 million for the same expenditure. Fitzpatrick did away with all E’s in this year’s House budget.
Brown thinks there could be a snag in negotiating differences in the supplemental budget, which is a fund used for “unexpected expenses”.
“We didn’t have quite as much booked for supplemental as the House, and that may be a point of contention” said Brown.
Cost overruns have led to at least $100 million in state money coming out of the supplemental budget in most years. Fitzpatrick has placed almost $200 million in that fund this year, while the Senate has set aside between $106 and $108 million for it.
Brown says he won’t negotiate a couple of items in the budget, including DUI checkpoints and highway patrol pay. He also says that he brought no “personal projects” to the budget and thinks Fitzpatrick also did not.
Brown and Fitzpatrick each will lead five member sides in a conference committee to hash out their differences starting early next week.
Fitzpatrick tells Missourinet he’s confident their finished product will be approved by both houses, and a final budget can be sent to the governor by next Friday’s deadline.