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Missouri House sends $28 billion budget to the Senate

File photo | Carolina Hidalgo I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated March 29 with latest details – Missouri’s budget for fiscal year 2019 is now in the hands of the State Senate, with six weeks before it’s due to be sent to Gov. Eric Greitens.

The roughly $28 billion spending plan would fully fund the state’s K-12 schools, according to Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia.

“We’ve got close to $99 million in new money going to the foundation formula this year,” he said. “On the House side, it’s possible we’ll have to defend our position when [the budget] comes back from the Senate, but we should be ready to do so.”

That’s because Republican Dan Brown of Rolla, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, wants to shift some of the $99 million increase to school buses and other K-12 transportation needs.

“We probably are not going to cut the amount of money, but we may move it around a little bit,” Brown told reporters Thursday. “Right now, we’re grossly underfunding [K-12] transportation — I think that we do need to do something about that, and I think the state is at risk of a lawsuit if we don’t.”

Credit Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, chair of the House budget committee.

The budget also includes a compromise by Republican leaders and university heads to limit tuition increases to no more than one percent, in exchange for reversing proposed funding cuts sought by Greitens.

“I think that this is the appropriate thing to do – I think a one-percent tuition increase is manageable for the folks in this state,” said House budget chair Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. “I think for this year, with the reductions that the institutions have seen over the last two years under the governor’s proposal, it’s more prudent to hold them at level funding.”

Several other amendments failed, including one that would have required universities to spend 10 percent of their funding on improving on-campus security, specifically combating sexual assaults.

Democrats also tried unsuccessfully to remove language from the higher-education budget bill that bars undocumented students in Missouri from receiving in-state tuition or scholarships at public universities and community colleges.

“Undocumented students, the 'Dreamers,' had no choice in entering the United States; they were brought here by their parents,” said the amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City. “They have grown up in our country, and they can make economic and social contributions if allowed to continue their studies in college.”

Republicans argued that only legal citizens of Missouri should receive in-state tuition.

“I think that [undocumented] students who are receiving their free education up through their high school diploma would think that they need to start the process of becoming an American citizen, instead of trying to take money out of the pockets of our Missourians that truly need to have some higher education,” said Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek. “I think that is our first and foremost duty as a [legislative] body, to see that our legal citizens of Missouri are given the opportunity for post-secondary work.”

GOP House members also defeated an effort to limit A-plus scholarships to students whose parents make less than $150,000 a year.

Credit Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia.

Aside from higher education, an attempt to restore funding for DWI checkpoints across Missouri was voted down. Unlike other amendments, it had supporters and opponents in both parties. Its backers argued the checkpoints are more effective at keeping drunk drivers off the road; opponents called them an invasion of privacy that presumes a driver is guilty until proven innocent.

Other items in the budget include an $80 million increase to fund benefits for state employees, a $2 million increase for a program that’s building artificial lakes in northwestern Missouri, and a $14.75 million increase for tourism needs.

A group of amendments that would have shifted some Medicaid funding to in-home care recipients, nursing home residents and seniors enrolled in a state-run prescription-drug program was also defeated.

“These amendments ... are not a sustainable path forward, and at the end of the day, we have to balance the budget,” Fitzpatrick said. “We cannot continue to pretend like these one-time solutions that probably don’t even work in the year we’re trying to do them are going to be a fix to these problems.”

That prompted an impassioned response from the amendments’ sponsor, Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood.

“Every year, we have a chance to decide where our money is a priority for us, [and] why we don’t think our seniors or people living with disabilities is a priority is beyond me,” she shouted. “You want to talk about priorities? Stop cutting taxes for a year ... just a year, try it! Get some money in here and fund these priorities!”

Follow Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.