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Missouri Lawmakers Pass $35.2 Billion State Budget Relying Heavily On Federal Funds

Cody Smith discusses state budget on Friday, May 8, 2020
Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Neosho, answers questions as House takes up budget bills for fiscal year 2021.

Missouri legislators approved a $35.2 billion state budget on Friday that includes $14.7 billion from the federal government’s coronavirus relief package. 

This comes at a time when State Budget Director Dan Haug said net general revenue collections for April were down 54% — from $1.5 billion to $725.2 million — compared to last year. 

Republicans say they feel good overall about the budgeting process despite time constraints presented from the virus after an extended legislative break. But House Democrats say the budget is unbalanced and over appropriated. 

“There will be a need for additional federal funds that are unrestricted in order for us to balance this budget and to ensure that we do not see significant withholds into the next fiscal year,” said Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, ranking minority member of the budget committee. “It’s so difficult to forecast what fiscal year 2021 is going to look like.”

State Sen. Dan Hegeman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the budget is not unbalanced. 

“We’re working with the best information we have right now,” said Hegeman, R-Cosby. “It’s easy to throw rocks right now. There’s a lot of things up in the air. I feel very comfortable that we came in with a responsible budget with the information we have right now.” 

House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Neosho, also said he did not agree with the assessment that the budget was unbalanced, since so much is still unknown with federal dollars and the economic outlook. 

Lawmakers had about two weeks to put together the current budget. Smith said that was a “hectic” and “challenging” experience, but the added layer of uncertainty of where the economy will be made it more difficult. 

Because guidance was still needed from the federal government, Democrats urged Republican leadership to wait to work on the budget. But House Speaker Elijah Haahr and Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said lawmakers were constrained by a constitutional deadline of May 8. 

Rep. Kendrick speaks during floor debate of the state budget on Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Credit Tim Bommel | House Communications
Ranking Minority Member of the House Budget Committee Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, speaks during floor debate of the state budget.

Kendrick said that “timeline was not ideal.” He also argued that the constitution allows lawmakers to not pass a full budget by that time. He said then they could have “moved onto a special session for the remainder of the budget once we had a better idea of what federal aid packages may look like as well as a better opportunity to forecast what revenue will be.” 

Rowden said that idea was “ludicrous” and “blatantly unconstitutional.” Despite getting the stripped-down budget across the finish line, lawmakers are likely to return later this month or next month to tweak how federal dollars are appropriated. 

“If we have to come back for the purposes of understanding or taking advantage of new federal money, new federal guidance on existing money … all of those things are certainly on the table,” said Rowden. 

In early budget negotiations, Missouri’s colleges and universities were set to receive one of the largest cuts. In the final version, federal dollars are used to fill that gap for higher education. Kendrick said that funding has yet to come in and if it doesn’t, those institutions will face a 10% cut. Community colleges are receiving the same funding as last year regardless of federal funding. 

Public K-12 schools were also spared any cuts with the education foundation formula being fully funded. Some of the deep transportation cuts were also partially funded. 

The budget offers $30 million in grants from the federal government for small businesses struggling during the economic shutdown. Spending for new government programs was slashed from the budget, and current state agencies are up against more than $150 million in budget cuts. 

The proposal now heads to Gov. Mike Parson.

Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Jaclyn is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.