The Missouri Legislature passed a $49 billion state budget proposal Friday – and just in the nick of time. With a few hours to spare, lawmakers followed through with their one constitutionally-required job – passing a balanced state budget.
They left about $1 billion in unspent money for the fiscal year beginning in July.
Here are the highlights:
•This year’s budget fully funds Medicaid, including the expansion of the program.
•$500 million to give Missouri taxpayers a tax credit. Eligible citizens must have a 2021 income less than $150,000 a year for individuals or $300,000 for married couples. The exact amount to each taxpayer is unknown but it could be in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars per person.
•$500 million for the Missouri State Employees Retirement System
•$411 million for water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades
•$250 million to expand rural broadband internet access
•$200 million to nursing homes for rate increases to care for low-income Missourians
•$100 million to repair rural lettered roads
•$75 million for a cost share program for local road and bridge construction projects
•$2.4 million for two daily Amtrak round trips from St. Louis to Kansas City
•$3.56 billion in state aid to K-12 public schools
•$328 million to fully fund the state’s share of school transportation costs – an increase of $214 million compared to the current fiscal year. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the last time the state fully funded its share was in 1991.
•$37 million to increase pay for experienced K-12 public school teachers by restarting the Career Ladder program. The effort allows teachers with at least five years of experience to earn extra money for participating in additional activities in the school setting.
•$22 million to boost the minimum K-12 public school teacher pay from $25,000 annually to $38,000 through a state and local matching grant program. The state would shore up 70% of the funds and the local district would be required to cover the remaining 30%. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education says about 4,000 teachers make between $25,000 and $35,000.
•$50 million in Close the Gap grants to provide up to $1,500 to some families for tutoring, summer learning and other educational opportunities related to pandemic-era learning loss. Low-income families would be prioritized for the one-time grants.
•$5.8 million to help underperforming K-12 public schools improve student performance
•$1 million to fund school safety grants
•$600,000 for dyslexia programs
•$475 million to the University of Missouri System
•$103 million to Missouri State University
•$61 million to the University of Central Missouri
•$46 million to Truman State University
•$34 million to Northwest Missouri State University
•$31 million to Missouri Southern State University
•$29 million to Lincoln University
•$25 million to Missouri Western State University
•$12.6 million to Harris Stowe State University
•$8.5 million to State Technical College of Missouri
•$10 million in core funding for the state’s community colleges
•$84 million for the Access Missouri financial aid program
•$10 million to Fast Track Workforce Incentive grants
•$50 million court settlement to Department of Corrections officers for overtime costs
•$45.5 million to reimburse counties for housing and transporting state prisoners
•$500,000 to create a nursery program for some female state prisoners to raise their newborns behind prison walls
•24 new staff support positions within the Missouri Public Defender System
Who are the winners in the proposed state budget?
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said the winners are Missouri citizens.
“We are really putting a lot of investment in infrastructure in the next few years, that’s really going to help all of our communities well into the next decades. Infrastructure is not really exciting and everything but it really is important, imperative for good governance. It’s what makes government work – it is what people expect. Water, wastewater making sure I have water, making sure I have wastewater taken care of. Roads – these are the type of things that we can do with these one-time infusion of dollars out there that will make Missouri as a whole a better place,” he said.
Missouri Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, also weighed in.
“If you are a loser in this budget, you did it wrong,” said Rowden.
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, agreed that Missouri taxpayers are the winners of this budget.
“I think that this is a really good budget that covered a lot of bases,” said Rizzo. “I’ll repeat it again until I’m blue in the face – it was brought to you by President Biden in the White House and the Democrats in Congress that were smart enough to get ahead of where we were as a pandemic. Now, we’ve got to make sure we don’t overheat the economy – and that’s just truthful. I’m sure there’s Democrats that don’t like me saying that. But the bottom line is we did what we needed to do to make sure people didn’t lose their homes or were able to make ends meet during a pandemic and after. Now we’ve got to figure out how to make sure that we don’t overheat it so that we can get this inflation stuff under control and do what we need to do.”
According to Representative Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, a lot of the winners in the budget were those who he said needed pay raises.
“That’s teachers. That’s our direct care providers,” said Merideth. “That’s Parents As Teachers and First Steps providers, state employees. Those are all winners. Honestly, I think that we still have a lot of work to do to give them more raises to keep up with economic shifts, and I hope we can do that. But this is the first time we’ve seen a real change in our budget for them. And so, I would call them winners.”
State Sen. Brian Williams, D-St. Louis County, said St. Louis County is a winner in this budget.
“We’re going to have upwards close to $100 million going to St. Louis County, he said. “Whether you’re talking about $40 million, that’s going towards the Workforce Business Development Center, $6 million, which go towards demolishing Jamestown mall, or a National Intelligence Center for Law Enforcement, which is $23 million. So, I’m really excited about it.”
Who are the losers?
“I can’t say that there’s a definitive loser. I think everybody got a little bit of what they wanted, maybe not everything,” said Rizzo.
A $150 million goof the state made has affected roughly 46,000 people. Missourians who were overpaid coronavirus-era unemployment benefits were told by the state to pay up. Last year, Missouri Labor Department Director Anna Hui told a House committee the average overpayment from the state was $990.
The state’s goof garnered little attention this session.
“Instead of addressing the fact that our state leadership screwed people last year, when they made a mistake at no fault of the person that received the benefits, and then they’re continuing to go after them for repayment, punishing them when we have the money right now to just wipe that away, and there’s no question that’s what we should have been doing if we are doing anything about unemployment benefits,” said Merideth.
During a committee hearing last month, Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chair, Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said he has been “beating his head against a wall for the past two years” to resolve this matter.
“It’s still incredibly frustrating for me to receive the phone calls and get the emails in my office and listen to the stories of people who are having their tax refunds intercepted by the department, because the Legislature and the (Parson) Administration haven’t been able to solve this problem,” he said.
DACA students: Under the budget, it would also charge international college tuition rates to students who entered the U.S. illegally as young children.
“I would certainly say that DACA students lost in this,” said Merideth. “If a kid lives in Missouri, they should pay in-state tuition. We’re talking about people, especially kids that are DACA kids, who they are now here legally. They have a legal status, but they still fall in this category of undocumented. To treat them in a way like they aren’t our neighbors or our friends, our classmates or they go to church with us and they’re taxpayers, just like all of us. They are paying literally with their tax dollars just like you and I are for these universities in our school or in our state. They should absolutely have access to the same educational opportunities that my kids will have. I find it offensive that we keep doing that out of xenophobia.”
State Representative Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City, calls the effort discriminatory.
“All of our border states have reciprocal arrangements with our state institutions that will charge in state tuition if you live within a certain metropolitan area,” said Burnett. “So, the consequence of that and what we end up doing with this policy is sending some of our best and brightest students out of state.”
Planned Parenthood: Lawmakers banned Medicaid reimbursements to abortion clinics or any affiliates. The organization provides a variety of healthcare services, including preventative care, treatment of sexually transmitted infections, and birth control access. There are Planned Parenthood clinics across Missouri but only one provides abortions – and government funding cannot be used on abortions anyway.
“We know that it gets tried every year, it gets struck down in court every year. That is wasting taxpayer dollars. It is wasting resources,” said Merideth. “And it is harassing health care providers that are just trying to provide health care. This is just getting in between people and the health care provider of their choice for all kinds of services. And that’s not something we can do as a state, especially when we’re talking about federal dollars. And I find it appalling that they keep doing it anyway, even though they know better.”
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office could also be considered a loser. After filing lawsuits against dozens of traditional public school districts for virus-related health precautions, the Attorney General’s Office’s request for $500,000 to bring on additional staff was not approved.
Hough led the effort to nix the funding request.
“As our Attorney General continues to sue most of the citizens of this state, I don’t know why we’re gonna give him another half million dollars,” Hough asked during a committee hearing.
During budget debate this week, State Representative Brad Hudson, R-Cape Fair, said lawmakers should have fulfilled the attorney general’s request.
“What this is about is, among other things, vigorously defending legislation that has been passed by the General Assembly. Think about the Second Amendment Preservation Act that we pass,” he said. “Think about pro-life HB 126 that was passed. Also, when we’re potentially facing it looks like the overturning of Roe v Wade.”
Merideth did not share those same feelings.
“As the Senate wisely put it, we probably shouldn’t be giving him that money when he seems to be using it to sue basically everybody in Missouri for campaign purposes,” said Merideth.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt is running in a crowded field of Republicans for U.S. Senate.
The fate of the budget items is now up to Gov. Mike Parson. He has until the end of June to think over the budget.
Next week is the race to the finish line. It marks the final five days of the Legislature’s regular session.
Lawmakers will be working to tie up a bunch of loose ends. The House is expected to debate a Congressional redistricting proposal. Sports betting could reappear in conversations. Expect education, election and unemployment bills to resurface as well.
What other items see the light of day are anyone’s guess and what items will die is unknown until the gavel drops by 6 p.m. May 13.
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