Missouri Senate passes state budget; negotiations with the House next | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Senate passes state budget; negotiations with the House next

Apr 26, 2017

Updated 9 p.m. April 26 with budget moving forward — Missouri’s $27.8 billion budget for next fiscal year passed the Senate on Wednesday night, 9 days before the constitutional deadline.

It’s back in the hands of the state House, and both chambers have to appoint negotiators to hammer out a final version. The budget must be to Greitens by 6 p.m. May 5 or risk needing a special session.

The House budget committee chairman, Republican Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick of Shell Knob put forth his preferred timeline. 

“My goal is to have the bills (back) over to the Senate by next Wednesday, so they’ll have two-and-a-half to three days to get them done,” he said.

Missouri’s higher education budget will be a bone of contention. The House wants to cut the University of Missouri System’s budget by 9 percent, while the Senate wants a smaller cut of 6.5 percent. But Fitzpatrick doesn’t think the differences will be so great that they’ll miss the deadline.

“If those go well, if there’s not a lot of disagreement, then we can get it done and give the Senate plenty of time to finish up,” he said.

Most of the budget bills were passed Tuesday, but it took all day Wednesday to get the final four voted back to the House. Most of the debate centered on one last attempt by Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf to strip funding for expansion of the state’s managed care system from the Department of Social Services’ budget. The statewide expansion would be used to provide services to Medicaid recipients.

“It’s not going to provide better care, and there’s a serious question as to where it’s going to save the state any money,” he said.

But fellow Republican Sen. Caleb Rowden of Columbia disagreed.

“Republicans from around the country have said (this) is the best conservative way to administer Medicaid at the state level,” he said. “The status quo of Medicaid … has gotten us to a place where it’s hard to fund K-12 education, it’s hard to fund higher education, it’s hard to figure out a way to fix I-70 and other critical infrastructure around our state because of the cost increases of Medicaid.”

Updated April 26 with more details from Tuesday night's actions — What once seemed a challenge became reality Tuesday: Missouri’s K-12 schools will be fully funded under next year’s budget, something only Gov. Eric Greitens can change.

The Senate approved $45 million increase in funding, which is the same amount the House approved a couple weeks ago and is far more than the $3 million increase the governor had proposed. However, the definition of "fully funded" is up for debate among Democrats and Republicans.

Last year, Republicans lowered the definition of what it meant to fully fund the state's public schools. Democrats disagreed, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had said it needed $450 million more, not $71 million, and Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill. But Republicans overturned the veto, so the lower threshold is law.

The Senate budget committee chairman Dan Brown, a Rolla Republican, argued against Tuesday’s vote. His committee had given the Senate an estimated spending range of $3 million to $45 million.

“Not that I’m against fully funding the (K-12) formula,” he said, “(but) that’s why we left the budget as I presented it…to have that negotiating ability (with the House).”

Fellow Republican Gary Romine of Farmington, who led the effort to add $45 million, disagreed: “We can be political, we can talk about fully funding the formula, or we can do it.”

Greitens can change the amount of funding for public schools if he chooses, by using the line-item veto to permanently cut funding or by temporary withholding money and releasing it later if the state receives more revenues than projected.

Other budget bills

The 19-14 vote on K-12 funding was among a several budget bills to pass — some with uncharacteristic speed — in the Senate on Tuesday.

One was the higher education bill, which kept the suggestion by the chamber's budget committee to give the University of Missouri System a 6.5 percent cut and other four-year universities a 9 percent cut. The funding is a reversal of what the House passed, meaning the chambers will have to come to an agreement at a later date.

Another notable change was that senators removed language that barred using state money for DWI checkpoints. House Republicans had insisted on the ban, arguing that the checkpoints are an invasion of privacy that presumes someone is guilty until proven innocent.

Cutting 11 inspectors from the Department of Labor, leaving just one for the whole state, was something Democratic Sen. Gina Walsh of Bellefontaine Neighbors objected to in another budget bill. Brown said it was done to help shrink the size of state government, but added he’s willing to negotiate with the House.

And an extra $3 million was added to a budget bill to buyout homes near the West Lake landfill in Bridgeton, where radioactive material is buried. Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, pushed for the extra funding for the federal Superfund site.

Budget bills for the Departments of Public Safety or Corrections didn’t change from what the Senate Appropriations committee put forward. However, Republican Sen. Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph recused himself from voting on the Corrections budget, offering no explanation why.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the remaining four budget bills on Wednesday, including the two bills that allocate federal Medicaid funding. The deadline to get the full budget to Greitens is May 5.

Krissy Lane contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport