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Missouri House passes $50.7 billion budget, changes expected in Senate

Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, back right, confers with Vice Chairman Dirk Deaton during discussion of whether to suspend rules being used by Democrats to stretch out debate.
Rudi Keller
The Missouri Independent
Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, back right, during a House Budget Committee hearing. The House budget, mainly crafted by Smith, is on its way to the Senate.

Members of the Missouri House voted Thursday to send a roughly $50.7 billion budget to the Senate — about $2 billion less than Gov. Mike Parson proposed.

The budget includes $46.4 billion for operations.

Within the budget is $8.7 billion for K-12 schools, including $287 million to fund the state’s obligation for school transportation, a 3.2% pay increase plan for state employees and millions of dollars to improve Interstate 44.

The House spent just under nine hours on Tuesday making changes to the budget bills before giving its final stamp of approval Thursday.

During debate Tuesday, over 40 amendments brought by House Democrats were voted down by Republicans while around 35 were approved.

Disagreements between the two parties included debates on both K-12 and higher education funding and sending more National Guard members to the Texas-Mexico border.

Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, who serves on the Budget Committee, criticized the process Thursday.

“This year the budget felt especially dominated by the budget chair and a process that didn't even include subcommittee recommendations,” Windham said. “Overall, the process felt like hurry up and wait. Then, when we finally got the product, it was nearly 2 billion sizes too small.”

While the budget fully funds the state’s school foundation formula, House Democrats have repeatedly said funding the formula by the same amount doesn’t help when it comes to inflation.

“What that is in real value of dollars and real money, that's a big cut to schools. And that's why today we have the lowest-funded K-12 schools of any state in the country,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, said the House increased the amount it put into the foundation formula this fiscal year.

“We have in every one of the buckets put the money not just as required, but the increases that have been asked for,” Lewis said.

On the topic of higher education, while the House did give a 2% increase in funding for the state’s four-year and two-year higher education institutions, it’s a percentage point lower than Parson’s office asked for.

One of the largest differences between Parson’s proposed budget and the House budget is hundreds of millions of dollars for improvements along Interstate 44.

That is a funding item the House put in that was not requested by Parson.

“I-44 is our most traveled artery across the state and is in need of some attention. So we're giving quite a bit of attention with this bill,” House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said.

Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Manchester, credited federal dollars that freed up general revenue and created a surplus to pay for such infrastructure improvements.

One area of spending with partisan differences included continued spending for members of the Missouri National Guard to be at the Texas-Mexico border.

Members of the House earlier in session had already passed a supplemental budget bill going toward that effort.

Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, spoke in favor of the decision.

“It is wrong, and ultimately self-defeating, for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years. And we must do more to stop it,” Deaton said.

Merideth said this has become more a political issue instead of supporting the efforts of the federal government.

“Republicans campaigning, wanting to claim that the president's doing nothing, are literally obstructing the president doing more at the border,” Merideth said.

While the House has passed its version of the budget, it will likely go through significant changes before it makes it through both chambers.

The past few sessions, the House has sent over its version of the budget, only for it to increase in size in the Senate.

Lawmakers have a deadline of May 10 to pass this year’s budget.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.