Missouri budget agreement includes $2.8 billion to expand I-70 across the state
A $2.8 billion plan to widen Interstate 70 statewide moved one step closer to reality Wednesday night.
Under the planned state operating budget, I-70 would be widened to a minimum of three lanes in each direction across the state. The original House plan called for nearly $860 million that would have expanded the interstate in the St. Louis, Columbia and Kansas City areas.
Gov. Mike Parson has already spoken in support of the expansion, saying he was fine with legislators adding to his initial plan.
The decision to keep the larger I-70 plan was made as part of a series of conference committees between the chambers to agree on a state operating budget.
There was a $4.2 billion difference between the two chambers’ proposed budget going into the conference committees, with the Senate spending more for a total of nearly $50 billion.
On some of the either larger or more disputed items, the committees went with the Senate decisions.
One of those Senate moves was an additional $7.6 million to pay for the 30% match requirement schools needed to contribute to raise baseline teacher pay to $38,000.
The total cost for the state to pay for the raises is now $29.4 million.
The conference committees also addressed two controversial issues — library funding and diversity, equity and inclusion. The Senate restored $4.5 million in state funding for public libraries cut by the House, and that funding remained during the conference committee.
And kept out of the budget was House language that prohibited expenditures on diversity, equity and inclusion. Opponents said it would have made it difficult for the state to do business with many businesses and vendors.
Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, who was the sponsor of the language, said he didn’t rule out attempting to add it in future sessions.
“I'm still convinced that it's entirely appropriate to do that through the budget. But I also am equally committed to doing that through a statutory route as well. Either one is fine, for me,” Richey said.
One major change on the House side that stayed in was the removal of $55.8 million in expanded pre-kindergarten funding. While the Senate had initially restored that request from Parson’s office, it is no longer in the budget.
Funding for core pre-K remains in the budget at $26 million.
One area of compromise was increases in pay for home care workers who help people with disabilities as well as other employees within the Departments of Mental Health and Health and Senior Services.
While the House did not add any money, the Senate added enough funding to increase pay to $17 an hour. However, in a compromise, that funding was lowered to a little more than $16 an hour.
In one of the few discussions during the roughly three hours of committee work, Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, asked for an explanation of the decision.
“Is there a specific need for compromise? Are we over-appropriated?” Proudie said.
Appropriations Chair Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, answered that this budget, as well as the huge surplus Missouri has now, is an anomaly, and that he did not want to overspend on something that would be ongoing as opposed to a one-time expense.
“It would very much be my intent that we keep working on these provider rates moving forward, but this helps out some now,” Hough said.
While the conference committees have concluded, the budget bills still must pass each chamber by Friday before going to the governor.
The legislature must also still approve four more budget bills that have passed the House but not the Senate. They include money for capital improvement projects as well as continued funding for expenditures that were allocated before this year.