Working to pass Missouri's state budget ahead of schedule seems to be the new normal.
Usually at this point in the legislative year, the 13 bills making up the state budget would have barely been in the Missouri Senate's hands for a week. But on Thursday the upper chamber passed 12 of the 13 bills, sending them back to the House to set the stage for final negotiations.
The Senate did not take up House Bill 2013, which covers state properties and leases, but will likely get to that one early next week.
The goal of the push is to get the budget to Gov. Jay Nixon early enough so that he'll have to sign it before the 2016 session ends and give lawmakers the chance to override any vetoes without having to wait till September. The final bill, having to do with properties and leases, is routine and is expected to be passed by the Senate next week.
Missouri University System cuts mostly restored
The $27.2 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2017 includes an overall increase of nearly $56 million for the state's higher education system. It even increases funding to the University of Missouri System by $27 million, although it cuts $1 million from the system's administrative offices.
That particular cut is much larger in the House's proposed budget, $7.6 million, and there could be a turf battle between the two chambers over how hard the university system should be "punished."
"I suspect it will be a source of a lot of conversation," said Senate appropriations chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. "If you're going to commit almost half a billion dollars, how do you send a message of ... accountability? And then if you don't see the accountability that you want, how do you get your message out there in a way without hurting students?"
Democrats are mostly on board with House Bill 2003, which encompasses the state's higher education budget.
They tried, but failed, to repeal language that makes immigrants who lack documentation ineligible for in-state tuition and financial aid.
"What we have here is clearly an unconstitutional effort to legislate through the budget," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. "What's the next political issue that you're going to put in the budget to make a statement or to drive a point or to get around the legislature?"
Two Republican senators joined the Democrats' opposition to the language. But the GOP caucus blocked the amendment.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, released the following statement Thursday:
"Missouri leads the nation in holding down tuition increases at public universities, helping to put a college education within reach for more students and their families. I thank the Missouri Senate for answering my call to fund higher education at a level that ensures a tuition freeze this fall. In the coming weeks, it is imperative that legislators include these needed investments in the final budget so that we can continue making college more affordable for students and families across the state."
Medicaid funding has been slashed by about $28 million, which Schaefer told reporters Thursday is necessary to keep costs down.
"We cut back where we could," he said. "The difficulty there is they are entitlements, and the dollars are what the feds say you have to pay...I still disagree with the policy of committing so much money to just one program, but we tried to be reasonable in light of what we are legally responsible to pay. I would rather spend less on (Medicaid) and more on things like public education."
Senate Democrats decried the cuts to Medicaid. Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur argued that they should instead do the exact opposite and expand Medicaid.
"(If) somebody wants to pay 90 percent of something for the state of Missouri, I think every Missourian would be delighted to have the federal government do that," she said. "Every year we put this off, we get further away from the 100 percent level that the federal government has been willing to pay for the first three years, maybe more."
Schupp also tried, but failed, to have language removed that bars Planned Parenthood from having any access to Medicaid dollars.
The proposed budget increases funding for K-12 schools by $70 million, which still falls short of the $440 million needed to fully fund the state's formula for public schools.
It would also provide a 2 percent pay raise for state employees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The appropriation bills heading back to the House:
HB 2001 - Board of Fund Commissioners
HB 2002 - State Board of Education and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
HB 2003 - Department of Higher Education
HB 2004 - Department of Revenue and Department of Transportation
HB 2005 - Office of Administration, Department of Transportation, and Department of Public Safety
HB 2006 - Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, and Department of Conservation
HB 2007 - Departments of Economic Development; Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration; and Labor and Industrial Relations
HB 2008 - Department of Public Safety
HB 2009 - Department of Corrections
HB 2010 - Department of Mental Health, Board of Public Buildings, and Department of Health and Senior Services
HB 2011 - Department of Social Services
HB 2012 - Statewide elected officials, the Judiciary, Office of the State Public Defender, and General Assembly