Missouri’s budget for the next fiscal year has cleared its second major hurdle, but the next one won’t be quite so easy.
The House passed all 13 budget bills Thursday, so the full budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1, is now in the hands of the Senate. GOP leaders sharply disagree with the lower chamber’s move to fully fund the state’s K-12 school funding formula — putting an extra $45 million toward schools compared to the $3 million increase Gov. Eric Greitens had asked for.
House budget committee chairman Scott Fitzpatrick explained the reasoning.
"We passed a bill to revise the formula, we put the growth cap back on to make full funding achievable, and because we did that, I think we should fully fund the formula," the Republican from Shell Knob said. "We had to do what we had to do this year, and made education our No. 1 priority."
But some senators, including Republican Dan Brown of Rolla, believe fully funding schools can’t be done because of the state’s slower-than-estimated revenue growth.
Brown, the Senate’s chief budget writer who also chairs the chamber’s appropriations committee, told St. Louis Public Radio that the Senate will put more than $3 million but less than $45 million toward schools, meaning they won’t be fully funded.
That sentiment worries educators, including Eric Knost, the superintendent of the Rockwood School District in southwest St. Louis County.
“There’s a lot of potential legislation out there that could result in funding flowing away from public education,” he said. “Any amount of additional funding to fund our schools is a good thing.”
House and Senate budget writers do agree, though, on the proposed $36 million increase for school buses and other K-12 transportation needs.
But there’s more to the budget than just K-12 school funding. Here’s a breakdown of what the House’s budget provides:
Higher education downsized
Several House Republicans are still angry over the racially tinged 2015 protests at Mizzou, which is reflected by a nearly $22 million cut to the whole University of Missouri System. That said, it’s about $1 million more than what Gov. Eric Greitens proposed.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, hopes to reverse the cuts to the UM System or at least shrink them.
“Any time a dime gets cut from the university (system), I think that’s not something that’s in the best interest of, not just my community, but the state,” he said.
The University of Missouri-St. Louis is expecting to see about $5.6 million less in the coming fiscal year, according to school CFO Rick Baniak.
“We’re going to try and resolve it through a somewhat balanced business approach, where we’re looking at new combinations of revenues, expenditures, and investments to overcome this shortfall that we’re going to see,” he said.
Other state-run institutions of higher learning are slated to undergo a 6.5 percent cut to their budgets.
Several budget bills contain language requiring or forbidding state money to be spent on various items and dictating policy in exchange for funding. It’s a practice pushed in recent years by some Republican leaders, but Brown and others don’t like it, calling it “unconstitutional.”
Among the restrictions headed to the Senate:
- For higher education, students with “an unlawful immigration status” can’t receive scholarships or in-state tuition rates. Universities can’t require students to join a labor union.
- MoDOT cannot spend money on anything “associated with the tolling of interstate highways.”
- The Department of Natural Resources must notify the legislature of “pending land purchases” within 60 days. The agency also can’t enforce federal rules enacted under President Barack Obama regarding water use and carbon emissions.
- Flight plans filed for state-owned aircraft must be made available to the public.
- The Department of Mental Health and the Department of Social Services cannot spend money “for the purpose of Medicaid expansion.” Doctors and health care providers that perform abortions will not be eligible for state money.
While Brown indicated he may strip some of the restrictive wording out — “you should not be legislating from the budget,” he said — the abortion funding language will stay.
“We have supporting legislation that’s already been passed that allows that language to be used,” he said.
Michelle Trupiano is executive director of the Missouri Family Health Council, a Jefferson City-based nonprofit group that advocates for women’s reproductive health care. She said the definition of “abortion services” is too broad, and could severely affect rural areas that have a lack of family-planning services.
“Talking about abortion and providing abortion is not the same thing,” she said.
$1 dollar for DWI checkpoints
The House allocated a grand total of $1 for DWI checkpoints, a policing tactic that Republicans argued violate people’s constitutional rights.
The Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Missouri State Highway Patrol, declined to comment, but Meghan Carter with the Missouri chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving criticized the provision.
“MADD believes that a life is worth more than $1, and sobriety checkpoints are not only effective in removing impaired drivers from our roadways, but mostly serve as a proven deterrent to drunk driving,” she said in a statement.
Carter is urging the Senate to fund the checkpoints, which she says has netted more than 4,100 arrests in Missouri over the past three years. Brown told reporters Thursday that there’ll be discussions on reversing it.
“The Highway Patrol was by (my office) this morning,” he said. “We’ve got some (budget) committee members that are very concerned that we not restrict how (the Highway Patrol) uses the money, that they can use it for checkpoints.”
More money to spend?
The state’s revenue growth was projected to be 3 percent for the fiscal year that ends in June, but Wednesday’s report showed it’s at 4.3 percent for the current fiscal year. Brown said it’s unlikely to affect any budget decisions his committee makes on the budget.
Quickly approaching deadline
Brown is worried that the late start on the budget this year will lead to a chaotic rush to get it completed by the May 5 deadline, considering that once the Senate passes its version, it’ll have to be negotiated further before it can go to Greitens’ desk.
“Hopefully we’re going to have our homework mostly done and we’ll have some time to badger back and forth between the House and Senate positions,” he said.