Missouri House Approves $1.2 Billion Supplemental Budget, Now It Heads To Senate
The Missouri House gave final approval Tuesday to a $1.2 billion supplemental budget bill, most of which comes from the federal government.
The legislation gives the governor appropriation authority to ensure the state has access to additional coronavirus relief funds.
State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, the ranking minority member of the Budget Committee, said the legislation includes what is known as journal vouchering. This allows Gov. Mike Parson’s administration to go back into the budget already passed by legislators and rewrite spending authority.
“At any point in time, I would be screaming about this,” Kendrick said. “I do think we are in a very unique time. Journal vouchering in most any other circumstances would give me a tremendous amount more heartburn than this does.”
Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, also took issue with the idea but said it’s necessary to ensure the state has flexibility to use the resources made available by the federal government.
“Nobody in this room feels less comfortable with the idea of us granting the power of the purse to the executive branch,” Smith said. “However, this is a unique circumstance; it continues to be a unique circumstance. But the issue is we’re running up against that deadline at the end of the year.”
On the House floor, Kendrick explained that journal vouchering will allow the executive branch to replace some of the state’s general revenue dollars with coronavirus relief funds from the federal government.
“We have now become aware, due to changing guidance, that we can go back and free up general revenue in the previous fiscal year as well as in the first quarter of the current fiscal year,” Kendrick said. “That’s going to be very critical.”
Kendrick recognized this budget gives the governor an overwhelming amount of authority on how the state spends money. He said he would like to see language added in the Senate to ensure transparency between the legislative and executive branches regarding these relief funds.
The budget includes funding for several state departments, including elementary and secondary education, social services, health and senior services, and the Office of Administration. It also includes general revenue funds, but Smith said that money is only to be utilized in worst-case scenario situations. COVID-19 relief funds can be tracked on Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick’s website.
The measure will now head to the Missouri Senate.
One of the main discussions on the House floor Tuesday was about the funding going toward education, specifically $75.6 million for the School Nutrition Services Program.
The language allows the state to reimburse schools with federal funds up to $75 million to feed students. This was an extension of the decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to feed children throughout the summer during the pandemic, which will last throughout the 2020-21 school year.
Rep. Justin Hill, R-Lake St. Louis, took issue with this specific part of the budget. He said that “since March, students have not been educated” and that this was “Missouri’s greatest failure.”
“This budget seeks to give DESE $75 million in food. Our schools have become glorified lunchrooms,” Hill said. “I can only speak for my school district, the Wentzville school district. They’re not educating children, but they’re certainly going to get money to hand out free food.”
Wentzville school officials could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday about Hill’s remarks.
Hill, who regularly does not wear a mask in the statehouse, said it’s understandable that students and teachers have concerns about returning to school due to news coverage of the virus. He also claimed the state doesn’t “have a higher rate of infection. We have a higher rate of contact tracing.”
The state is averaging nearly 3,500 cases per day and has reached a 20% positivity rate over the past seven days. There are currently more than 2,000 Missourians hospitalized for the virus, including 457 in intensive care units and 237 on ventilators, according to the DHSS coronavirus dashboard.
Hill said that the funding for school nutrition programs, while education suffers, is “an embarrassment” and that he was ashamed to vote in favor of the supplemental budget because of it. Hill, who opted for his children to complete virtual learning this year, said other children who chose in-person school are falling behind due to quarantine guidelines from school districts adhering to CDC recommendations.
“You know what $75 million could do? Pay for a tutor for everybody that is at risk of getting this virus,” he said. “That’s a priority.”
Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, expressed similar concern. Spencer and Hill noted they had heard from several Wentzville parents concerned about education for their child.
“A lot of our district is not a free and reduced lunch area,” Spencer said, claiming most of the food goes in the trash.
Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, said that she was “flabbergasted” by the discussion and that no child should go hungry when the state has the resources to feed them.
“I can assure you those meals that come by bus twice a day, they’re going into children’s stomachs,” she said.
Proudie echoed Hill’s point that children learn better in person but said it was “wholly inaccurate” to say students are not learning virtually. A certified teacher, Proudie also notes that children who are not fed will not learn regardless.
“You have to meet children’s most basic needs before they are learning anything, whether that’s in person or virtual. Hungry children do not learn.”