JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers have finally made progress on the state's $24 billion operating budget after a Senate filibuster kept budget negotiations in flux for two days.
The state House of Representatives and Senate were able to finalize budget negotiations Wednesday after the Senate unanimously approved a measure that would provide more than $30 million in funding to veterans' homes through reallocation of casino revenues. A filibuster had kept senators from acting on the proposal and threatened the outcome of the entire budget process after the House said funding for the veterans' homes was crucial for budget negotiations to continue. The extensive debate brought rumors that the Senate leadership would have to use a last-resort measure to stifle further debate — a move that has not been used since 2007.
The two-day long filibuster was brought about by a few senators who were discontented with some of the items in the budget. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardieucq, led much of the filibuster and said he would hold up debate on all bills brought before the Senate floor, no matter their content, until a $2 million earmark set aside for Southeast Missouri State University was eliminated. Crowell argued that the $2 million was simply being used as a favor to House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryvillecq. Tilley, who attended the university, said the money was intended to fix an inequity in funding among the state's universities.
Among its provisions, the conference-approved budget:
- Increases funding for six Missouri universities by spreading $3 million among the schools. The funding increases are based on the appropriations per student and include $885,969 to Southeast Missouri State University but leave out MU and Missouri State University. None of the money was presented to Harris-Stowe State University, which already receives the most money per student.
- Provides funding for a health care program for 2,800 blind Missourians. Funding for the blind program was a contentious issue between the House and Senate going into the budget negotiations, but it was finally resolved when the conference committee allotted $25 million to the program, which is $3 million less than the program needs to be fully funded.
- Approves a 2 percent pay raise for state employees making less than $70,000, which makes up about 97 percent of the state workforce.
Senate Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the increases were not applied to MU and Missouri State because, unlike the other universities, the schools are funded using statewide missions.
With the past 48 hours behind them, Missouri's senators finally came to a compromise Wednesday, allowing budget negotiations to continue. The compromise included the veterans' home funding as well as $35 million to early childhood education programs from a national settlement with tobacco companies.
The compromise also took out a provision that proposed defunding the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life after some Republican lawmakers claimed that the institute was taking part in political activities by training women in liberal politics for the Democratic Party.
The institute, which is based out of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is named after a prominent St. Louis state representative who was influential in ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment in Missouri in the 1970s.
The compromise also included a measure sponsored by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, that would have the joint committee on education create a funding formula for higher education. Lager's proposal would also require the legislature to implement the formula by the 2015 fiscal year.
Lager said that even though research has been done to create a formula in the past, the issue has never been forced, and his measure would allow lawmakers to finish it.
"What we have lived through in the past 48 hours underscores the insanity by which we fund higher education in this state," Lager said.
Schaefer said the conference-approved budget was balanced and $50 million below the governor's budget. Schaefer said his original budget proposal was going to be $70 million less than the governor's, but additions to the budget throughout the process, such as maintaining the funding for the blind health care program, required the change.
House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the House and Senate would vote to pass out the 13 bills comprising the budget on Thursday. Schaefer said that he expected the budget to pass through both chambers fairly easily, despite the past debate it has fostered.
Legislators have until the constitutionally mandated 6 p.m. Friday deadline to send the budget bills to the governor's desk.
Rush Limbaugh bust missing from Capitol
Wednesday marked the arrival of a new member to the Hall of Famous Missourians, located in the rotunda of the state Capitol. Another recent addition that was expected at the ceremony was missing.
House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, inducted the bust of Dred Scott into the Hall, where Scott joined other famous Missourians such as Walt Disney and George Washington Carver.
Missing from the ceremony, however, was the bust of controversial conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Earlier in the session Tilley announced that he was planning on inducting Limbaugh as well as Scott into the Hall, which spurred national attention and controversy. While opponents to Limbaugh's induction called the radio personality a misogynist, referring to his derogatory comments about a Georgetown University student who uses birth control, Tilley said the Hall was for famous Missourians, not the most-liked ones.
Despite Tilley's prior commitment to inducting Limbaugh, the radio personality's bust was not brought to the induction ceremony, leaving questions as to its whereabouts, especially after the sculptor posted on his website that he was "on the way to Jeff City to deliver Dred and Rush."
In a chamber next to the Hall where Scott was being inducted, the House approved a measure that would put the rotunda under lawmaker control. Currently, the House speaker is the only legislator who can determine who is honored in the Hall — a privilege that some took issue with when Tilley announced his decision to induct Limbaugh.
Under the amendment, the rotunda and any furniture or equipment in it would be specifically reserved for lawmakers, and outside groups would have to receive permission to use the area. The Senate president pro tem and House speaker would also join the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general as voting members to the state public buildings board, which is in charge of supervising state facilities.
The provision was a part of an amendment attached to a Senate bill on state property that now must head back to the Senate. Legislators have until May 18 to send bills to the governor.