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Missouri Senate should start on budget this week

The Missouri Senate Chamber
File |Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio
iPad photo of Mo. Senate chamber while the body was officially at-ease Monday night, 4-23-2012. A group of fiscally conservative Republicans began blocking the state's supplemental budget bill late Monday afternoon.

The Missouri Senate will take up the state budget when it reconvenes from spring break.

The $27 billion budget was passed by the House the same week Democratic senators orchestrated a 37-hour filibuster to stop a vote on a bill that would provide legal protections for businesses that refuse wedding-related services to same-sex couples. Due to the high tensions that resulted, Senate leaders decided to wait until after vacation to start discussing the budget.

Chair of the Senate Budget Committee Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, says they’re still on track to get the budget to the governor’s desk by April 21.

Budget Basics

The budget begins at the governor’s desk. The Missouri Office of Administration, which is part of the governor’s cabinet, releases its proposed budget for the coming year around the time the governor gives the State of the State address.

The chair of the House Select Committee on the Budget then divides the budget into a series of appropriations bills, which are refined in appropriations committees. Eventually, the appropriations bills are perfected and passed on the House floor. The Senate then takes up the budget, makes changes and passes a version of the budget agreed upon by both legislative chambers to the governor’s desk.

Passing a budget is the only duty of the General Assembly outlined in the Missouri Constitution. This means that lawmakers don’t necessarily have to pass any additional legislation to the governor during their session. Although that is unlikely, the stagnation in the Senate that began earlier this month has led to much questioning about the future productivity of the legislative body.

Regardless, the budget for the coming fiscal year will have to be passed.

Medicaid Cuts

This year, Nixon based his budget on a 4.1 percent revenue hike for the coming fiscal year. That translates into growth of roughly $350 million.

Republican lawmakers have used this figure to denounce Nixon’s calls for more money for Medicaid.

“We have $350 million in [general revenue] growth,” said  Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. “But we need $390 million just to satisfy one piece [of Nixon’s budget], which is Medicaid. You know, when the governor says he wants to spend more money on education ... his numbers don’t jive with that.”

The GOP-controlled House cut more than $88 million from Medicaid.

Schaefer has asked, “The question is, do we as a matter of policy spend every single dime on Medicaid?”

Senate Democrats aren’t as willing to denounce Medicaid spending as superfluous. Senate Minority Floor Leader Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, says he’d like to see expansion in mental health funding, which would likely result in an increase in Medicaid.

“I think if we addressed some of the mental health issues of some of the population of the state, we could save money in other areas of the state," said Keaveny. "It’s often a neglected category, and if we make the investment there, we could improve the overall economic and societal well being of the Missouri.”

As St. Louis Public Radio’s Durrie Bouscaren previously reported, the House proposal for $88 million in cuts for Medicaid is part of pulling all state funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates.

Higher education cuts

Nixon’s budget called for a 6 percent increase in spending for higher education to prevent tuition increases.

Speaker of the House Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, says Nixon's increase overlooks the lack of leadership on the University of Missouri’s campus. The House cut the UM System budget by more than $8 million.

“We’re not punishing students …” said Richardson. “This was a cut that was specifically made to the president’s office budget, the system budget.”

Schaefer agrees, “I think there has to be accountability for bad management. I just do."

He says it’s the General Assembly’s job to make sure state universities are using state funds appropriately. “Look, I may be the senator from Boone [County], but ultimately I’m accountable to all taxpayers,” said Schaefer.

Senate Democrats again disagree.

“I don’t know why we’re reducing the budget at the University of Missouri as we are,” Keaveny said. “The end result of that is going to be higher tuition rates for the students there, and I think it’s pretty short sighted for us to reduce our funding there to increase the debt our students are going to have to incur in order to get a degree.”

The legislature returns from Spring break Tuesday, March 29.

Mallory Daily is an intern at the State Capitol Bureau for St. Louis Public Radio. Follow on Twitter: @malreports