Missouri House to take up state budget; Senate may debate fuel tax

Mar 7, 2016

Missouri's proposed $27 billion budget for next year is up for debate this week in the Missouri House.

Last week, House budget writers cut $7.6 million from the University of Missouri System's proposed budget over the way it handled last fall's racial protests and over a perceived cozy relationship with Planned Parenthood. Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, was unable to persuade House budget writers to restore the funding, but he plans to try again this week.

Speaker Todd Richardson is keeping mum on chances of those cuts being restored on the House floor.

Credit Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

"Look, we don't make policy decisions contingent on funding in a lot of cases, so I think there's going to continue to be discussion about Mizzou's funding as we move forward," Richardson told reporters Thursday. "I have no doubt about that."

Differing approaches to transportation

The Republican-controlled House could also formally vote to shift some money from what some members have called "wasteful programs" within Medicaid and other social services into roads and bridges, as a means to improve transportation funding.

Meanwhile, after a week's delay, the Missouri Senate is expected to take up its transportation proposal, which centers on raising the state's gasoline tax by 1.5 cents a gallon and the diesel tax by 3.5 cents a gallon.

According to Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff is trying to work through a few issues with some of their colleagues. "He indicated to me that he thought (this) week would be the week."

The fuel tax hike could be a tough sell among some fiscal conservatives in the Senate. But Kehoe is a strong supporter of the proposal. He sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment in 2014 that would have created a temporary .75 percent sales tax to funnel more money into Missouri's transportation budget. It was soundly defeated by Missouri voters.

Split opinion on estimated revenue

Part of the issue with crafting the state budget this year is the difference between Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative leaders over how much money they think the state will take in during the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Nixon, a Democrat, believes Missouri's revenue collections will increase by 4.1 percent during Fiscal Year 2017, while House and Senate Republicans think revenues will only grow by 3.1 percent.

As a result, House budget chair Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, is creating a surplus revenue fund in the event that Nixon's rosier estimate proves true.

"It's imperative that we have a responsible spending plan that will ensure vital services like education and public safety actually receive the funds we appropriate," Flanigan said in a recent written statement. "The House refuses to go with the governor's option of promising funding only to withhold the dollars when revenues don't in come at levels that suit him."

A similar surplus fund was set up in 2014, the last time Nixon and GOP legislative leaders disagreed on the annual revenue estimate.

The House plans to pass the 13 bills that make up the state budget by Thursday, which would then go to the Senate.  State law requires that the annual budget be sent to the governor's desk one week before the end of the legislative session, which this year would be Friday, May 6.

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