JEFFERSON CITY — The General Assembly approved the 2019 budget Wednesday, two days before the Friday deadline.
Legislators had one last chance to speak their mind on the spending plan Wednesday during a daylong session that saw both the House and Senate pass all 13 budget bills. A House-Senate conference committee met Monday to agree on a final version of the budget, but it still needed approval from the full House and Senate.
The $28 billion spending plan includes increased funding for K-12 education, a restoration of cuts to higher education proposed by the governor and a pay raise for state employees that will take effect in January. Legislators in both chambers took the floor Wednesday to either praise the work of the budget committees or air their grievances with lack of funding in certain areas.
Despite the budget fully funding the foundation formula for the second year in a row and putting an additional $10 million toward school transportation, House Democrats maintained that schools still were being underfunded. They repeatedly brought up tax policy, arguing the state would have more revenue to spend if the General Assembly hadn’t passed tax cuts in previous years.
“We’ve got to quit giving away revenue to entities that don’t really need it,” Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, said. “We’ve got to start protecting the future.”
Republicans touted that the 2019 budget includes record spending for K-12 education. It will receive nearly $125 million more than last year, and its total budget will come in at just less than $6.16 billion, with more than half of that coming from the state’s general revenue. The rest of the money is federal.
“We’re a state that is funding education at record levels while we have teachers protesting at capitols in Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky, and a constitutional funding crisis in Kansas,” Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said. “I think that this body, along with our partners in the Senate, have shown a commitment to funding K-12 education that most of the states that surround us have not.”
Democrats also took issue with language in the higher education bill that that would have Missouri students living under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program pay international student tuition rates at public colleges and universities rather than the lower rate for Missouri residents.
Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, asked Senate Budget Chair Dan Brown, R-Rolla, why the conference committee kept the provision, which was included in the House version but not the Senate’s.
Brown said the state needed to wait and see how DACA was settled with the federal government, but Holsman pushed back, saying the state was “demurring” to Washington at the expense of students in his district who won’t be able to go to school in Missouri on in-state tuition “like their neighbors can.”
“We didn’t exercise our state’s rights to decide to let these kids go to our schools, because you were concerned about the federal status,” Holsman said. “How often do I hear Republicans talk about states’ rights? When Obama was in office, we didn’t want any federal impact on what we were doing as a state.”
Holsman sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee and fought in conference committee to reject the restriction.
“I didn’t ask for a whole lot of money in the budget,” Holsman said. “I asked for one thing, and that was to give these kids an opportunity to go to our schools ... and I don’t understand why we weren’t able to do it.”
Higher education institutions will get back $68 million of cuts that were included in the governor’s budget. House and Senate leadership worked with university leaders all session on the restoration, and the House struck a deal to cap tuition hikes at 1 percent.
Health department cuts
Eight people in the department of Health and Senior Services will lose their jobs after the department refused to turn over data collected on the Bourbon virus, a deadly tick-borne virus that killed a state parks employee in 2017. The fight began almost three months ago when the House Budget Committee cut funding in the director’s office after it refused to turn over aggregate results of antibody testing.
Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, asked the department for the information and was unsatisfied with the response as to why the records were closed. He continued his vocal displeasure on the House floor Wednesday.
“I don’t know how some of you sleep at night defending this department,” Alferman said. “You’d rather stand up here on the floor and pontificate about a government bureaucracy and advocate for their position to hold public health information.”
Opponents of the move called it punitive, excessive and irresponsible, and they urged House members to vote against the bill. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said the legislature should defer to the lawyers who believe releasing the information would violate state and federal laws.
“Eight full-time people are going to lose their jobs because we disagree with their legal interpretation,” Quade said. “This is frustrating, what we are doing.”
The department has not complied with a subpoena issued by the House. The department’s legal counsel sent a letter Monday to House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, that said the department can’t comply with the subpoena because it was issued outside “the course of a judicial or administrative proceeding.”
The cuts were included in the House version of the budget, originally at 10 people, but the Senate restored them. The House won out in the end, settling on eight layoffs.
“If they can’t figure out how to make it work with eight fewer people,” Fitzpatrick said, “then God bless ’em.”
The budget will include pay raises for all statewide employees starting Jan. 1. The statewide pay raise was included in the governor’s recommended budget and will give $700 to workers making less than $70,000 and a 1 percent raise to those making more than $70,000.
Some highway patrol troopers will receive an additional pay raise as part of a restructuring of the pay scale, and correctional officers will receive an additional $350 pay raise on July 1.
The corrections budget also includes money for a “Justice Reinvestment” pilot program and $5 million for an “Alternative Jail Sanctions” program. The jail sanctions program will look at placing low-level offenders under alternative sanctions such as house arrest in order to free up jail space and cut costs.
The budget includes a $61 million increase to the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, which provides health insurance to state employees. The board of MCHCP expects deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums to increase, but the influx of cash in the budget will help keep premiums flat. The delay in the statewide pay raise was also used to help shore up money for MCHCP.
The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program also will receive an influx of cash of about $21 million. It will be spread across various programs include the Work Assistance Program.
Missourian reporter Brendan Crowley contributed to this report.