House Budget Committee ends work on state budget

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 6:25 p.m. CDT; updated 9:34 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 15, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — The House Budget Committee ended debate relatively quickly on Missouri's 2012 budget after a markup session Tuesday.

The state's amended $23.2 billion budget represents an overall 2.5 percent decrease from last year's figure and includes a 7 percent reduction in funds for higher education.

The markup lasted only one hour, compared with last year's session, which took nearly three days. Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, credited the hard work of the committee chairman, Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, as well as the fair process this year as the reasons the markup was historically brief.

"He was very professional, efficient, effective, bipartisan and worked with people," Kelly said of Silvey.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, agreed with Kelly but said she wished the process had been less "orchestrated" by House leadership.  

Thirteen appropriations bills were passed with one no vote. Kelly said this was unprecedented during his tenure in office. Last year, more than 300 amendments were offered, but only 18 were brought to the committee this year.  

"There simply is no more money" to make amendments, said Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, the ranking member on the budget committee.

Earlier in the budget process, the committee used $12 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to offset a reduction in the Access Missouri Scholarship Program. Tuesday, Kelly motioned that the money for Access Missouri instead come from general revenue, which would provide more stability for the program from year to year since the money from MoHELA will not be available every year. 

Kelly's amendment ultimately passed, but he said the issue will be contested in the Senate.

Lampe offered an amendment to add $8.9 million to the elementary and secondary education transportation fund. In order to fund the increase, she proposed eliminating the state's ethanol subsidy program.

She said education transportation is underfunded by $55 million, which is "devastating" to rural school districts.

"I think our kids are worth it," Lampe said.

Committee opposition caused her to withdraw the amendment before a vote.   

Kelly also presented an amendment to cut the amount the state House of Representatives reimburses for mileage.

"We need to show our commitment to what we are asking everyone else to do," he said.

The amendment was passed despite opposition from committee members.

Some lawmakers said they were disappointed in the budget situation this year and the lack of money.

Lampe said the budget cuts will continue until the Republican majority is willing to have a conversation about increasing state revenue.

"There is no political will to do that ... we can't plug the leak anymore ... it's affecting our kids," Lampe said.

Lampe said instead of raising revenue, House Republicans have reduced it. She said the elimination of the corporate franchise tax passed by the House would cost the state $85 million in revenue.

Although the House committee has finalized the budget, there continues to be debate in the Senate about federal funds. Missouri has received $189 million from the federal government that must be spent by next year on elementary and secondary education. Some Republicans in the Senate have pledged to block that money along with other funds from the federal government.

"You have the federal government stealing from this generation and generations to come by spending money they don't have," said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, in a radio interview about using federal money for unemployment benefits, which he blocked in the Senate.

Nasheed also said a number of the budget amendments passed in the House will face opposition in the Senate.

"It is a whole different monster over there," she said.

The budget will be sent to the Senate floor when the legislators return from their spring break on March 28.

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