Missouri House approves supplemental budget, including raises for state workers
The Missouri House also passed a resolution that makes several changes to the state’s initiative petition process. It would make it tougher for proposed amendments to the state’s constitution to make it on the ballot and for voters to pass them.
Updated at 6:10 p.m., Feb. 10, with the House also passing a resolution that makes several changes to the state’s ballot initiative process
A supplemental Missouri budget, which includes raises for state workers, is a step closer to passing the legislature after the House approved it Thursday.
Members voted 114-11, with 25 voting present, for the budget that now awaits a hearing in the Senate.
The nearly $4.6 billion budget contains funds for Missouri’s Medicaid program, including its expansion, raises for state employees and almost $2 billion in federal money for public schools.
However, the bill the House passed is not the same as the proposal from Gov. Mike Parson, with one of the largest changes being to the pay raise plan.
Under Parson’s proposal, all state employees would have received a 5.5% cost-of-living adjustment. Additionally, a new minimum hourly rate of $15 would have been established.
The new budget instead creates two minimum wages for state workers, though the 5.5% increase is kept intact. Under these new changes, only some would receive the new $15-an-hour minimum, while others will have a $12-an-hour baseline. Missouri’s current minimum wage is $11.15 an hour.
In speaking on the bill Thursday, Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, said though she liked a lot of it, she was still voting present because “our state workers are suffering.”
“Until we are on the front lines of all of these jobs, I am going to trust them to tell me their reality. And what they are telling us is they need this money to keep our vital state services afloat,” Nurrenbern said.
House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said the difference between Parson’s wage proposal and the new budget is about $7 million, with the largest percentage of that cut coming from those who would not meet the new $15 minimum wage. Smith described the $12-an-hour positions as jobs for people entering the workforce.
“Those jobs aren't right for people who need to be completely self-sufficient, own their own home, have their own vehicle, have a family, those types of things,” Smith said.
While it was repeatedly said departments could be allowed to give increases higher than $12 an hour if they wanted, ultimately less money is being allocated to distribute raises as opposed to the original proposal.
Smith said one area where departments could find funding for raises would be in budgeted positions that are vacant.
House Democrats have repeatedly criticized the change in the raise plan. During preliminary approval, which took around four hours Wednesday, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, offered an amendment that restored the funding for the raises back to Parson’s initial proposal.
“We have an opportunity as a bipartisan legislature to stand behind our governor and stand behind our workers and invest in the services that run our state. I ask you to join me in passing this amendment and supporting our governor's proposal,” Merideth said.
Members of the House voted 96-52 against the amendment, though some Republicans supported it.
One amendment House members did approve came from Smith. The amendment gave more funding to Missouri’s Medicaid program than was initially allotted.
“We are trying to make sure here that we have the accurate amount of money in the budget for the needs of the Medicaid program,” Smith said.
Changes to ballot issues
The House also passed a resolution Thursday that would make it harder for proposed changes to the state’s constitution to get on the ballot.
Representatives voted 98-53 to advance the measure to the Senate. If the Senate agrees, voters would still have to approve the plan for it to take effect.
The resolution makes several changes to the initiative petition process, which recently has been used to pass Medicaid expansion, the legalization of medical marijuana and a minimum wage hike in Missouri.
Currently, signatures are needed from 8% of legal voters in two-thirds of Missouri’s eight congressional districts for a constitutional amendment to make it onto the ballot. Under the proposed amendment, that requirement would increase to 10% in each of Missouri’s congressional districts.
The resolution also increases the number of votes needed to pass an initiative petition amendment from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority.
The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Mike Henderson, R-Bonne Terre, said he thinks the state’s constitution should be a living document but not an “ever-growing document.”
“When we're changing it left and right, we change it one year, two years later, we change back what we just changed. I'm not sure that's good for the people in Missouri," Henderson said.
Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, said he supported changing the initiative petition process, but wants it to go into effect earlier than the planned Jan. 1, 2023.
In speaking against the resolution after the vote, Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, rebuffed the ideas that the state constitution is easy to amend and that raising the signature and vote threshold would help prevent out-of-state interference.
Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg