House approves budget plan maintaining $100-million boost to transportation

The Missouri House has proposed a $29.2-billion state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  Among other things it maintains Appropriations Committee Chairman Cody Smith’s (R-Carthage) plan to apply $100-million of General Revenue to road and bridge projects.  That would be in addition to the money in the state’s Road and Bridge Fund, which is dedicated to transportation.

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

If that proposal becomes law it would be the first time GR dollars have been used for transportation infrastructure.  Smith said the state’s road funding has been falling behind for years, and with other proposals to support it having fallen short – including a gas tax increase that was rejected by voters in November – it’s time to consider unprecedented sources.

He also said his plan is a better option than what Governor Mike Parson (R) proposed, to use bonds to support $350-million for bridge projects, which take years to pay off.

“Going further into debt comes at a high cost.  We already spend, on average, about 24-percent of the road fund on debt service as it is,” said Smith.  “This plan, paying as we go, could save us as much as $100-million over the course of 15 years, and it’s really that simple.”

Democrats say this approach creates uncertainty for the Department of Transportation, which wouldn’t know year-to-year how much money the legislature might decide to give it.

Kansas City representative Greg Razer (D) said the plan also would set a precedent that transportation would compete with other state priorities that are already funded with GR dollars, including education and medical care.

“The day will come when we have our director of transportation, people with disabilities, the presidents and chancellors of our universities all coming and trying to fight over the same pot of money,” said Razer.

Representative Greg Razer, D-Kansas City (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Razer and other Democrats said the state should not get away from using only the Road and Bridge Fund to support transportation.

“It’s something that has served us well for nearly a century,” said Razer.

Democrats say $100-million won’t go very far toward meeting the transportation infrastructure needs across the state.  Festus Republican Becky Ruth said a lot of options that have been considered might be short-term solutions.  She said this one would be a good start.

“Right now we have to do something, and that’s what the people of Missouri [have] asked us to do,” said Ruth.

“When our school busses are travelling on roads and crossing bridges and many of those bridges are in poor condition, I want you to stop and think about those children sitting on that school bus.  I want you to stop and think about the families driving in their car down the road.  I want you to stop and think about all of the people that use our highways day in and day out to get to their destinations – to go to work, to return from work – and they want to be able to do that safely,” said Ruth.

Smith said it is his intention to propose the use of General Revenue in future budget years to cover the projects that would’ve been paid for in the governor’s plan.  Each year, then, that would have to be decided upon by the General Assembly.

The 13 budget bills that make up the House’s spending plan now go to the State Senate, which will propose changes to it.  Then the two chambers will attempt to reach a compromise on a budget to be sent to the governor before the constitutional deadline of May 10.

House Budget head unveils road and bridge funding proposal as part of F.Y. ’20 budget

The Missouri House’s Budget Committee Chairman has unveiled his plan for paying for road and bridge work in the state, in place of the plan proposed by Governor Mike Parson (R) in January.

House Budget Committee Chairman Kip Kendrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Cody Smith’s (R-Carthage) plan is to use a $100-million from the state’s General Revenue Fund to support the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is the Department of Transportation’s plan for road and bridge improvements for the coming years.

Parson’s plan called for using $351-million in bonds to replace or repair 250 bridges throughout Missouri.  The bonding would have been paid back with about $30-million from the state’s General Revenue fund for 15 years.

Smith said it is important to focus on creating a plan that would funds transportation infrastructure but not put the state further into debt.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars in debt service every year … when we have an opportunity to make a similar impact on the bridges that have been identified as in need of repair over the course of four years and thereby save the state $100-million over 15 years I think we out to try to take that opportunity,” said Smith.

The Department has paid more than $700-million in debt payments in the last two years, and its average payment is $313-million a year.

Smith proposes spending $100-million in general revenue on roads and bridges in the next four years’ budgets or more.  That would be subject to the appropriation process in each of those years.  Smith potentially will be the House budget chairman throughout that time, and therefore would be in a position help make that happen.

State budget experts say General Revenue has never been used to pay for transportation infrastructure.  That is usually done with funds earmarked for that purpose.  Smith said it’s time to consider a fundamental change.

“The budget is a reflection of the state’s priorities and amongst those priorities should first be the core functions of government and I’d certainly put transportation infrastructure amongst the core functions of government,” said Smith.

Representative Kip Kendrick is the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Columbia representative Kip Kendrick is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee.  He called Smith’s proposal bold and a part of a larger discussion about how Missouri’s transportation infrastructure should be paid for, but funding it with general revenue would pit it against other priorities supported by that fund, like K-12 and higher education.

“A hundred million dollars in general revenue, I believe, sets a potentially bad precedent.  I don’t know how you ever unwind that,” said Kendrick.  “I think we need to be looking at long-term solutions and dedicated funding streams to address our infrastructure problems at the state level.”

Smith said weighing the various priorities of the state against one another is the job of the legislature.

“That is exactly what we’re doing here.  We’re talking about how we prioritize transportation versus education versus public safety – that is the process that the General Assembly goes through and I think that’s a natural and appropriate process,” said Smith.

The Missouri Department of Transportation says it is about $8-billion short of being able to fund its transportation needs in the next decade.

Missouri voters in November rejected a 10-cents-per-gallon tax increase to pay for road and bridge work.

Smith’s plan is part of his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  He unveiled that plan Wednesday.  Over the coming weeks the House Budget Committee will propose changes to that plan, then send it to the full House for debate during the week of March 25-29.  Before the state budget is finalized it must be approved by both the House and the Senate, then the governor could approve, reject, or delay funding from it.

House Budget Chairman: audit ‘confirms’ legislative criticism of former governor’s use of taxpayer money

A recent report from Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway (D) found that former governor Jay Nixon (D) overspent on his office and used taxpayer money for personal food and security.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The audit said Nixon delayed paying bills and shifted costs to other government agencies – practices legislative budget makers in both parties often criticized Nixon for.

“It wasn’t a secret that Governor Nixon had taken liberties with the Constitution and the appropriations bills that we had passed,” said Missouri House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob)“[Auditor Galloway] basically just confirmed what we’ve already been saying for the last several years.”

The audit found that, for example, flights by Nixon or his staff were paid for by the Department of Economic Development, though not all business on those flights was related to DED and Department officials often weren’t on those flights.

Fitzpatrick, who began serving as budget chairman in August, 2016, said this year’s state spending plan aims to prevent future governors from using similar tactics.

“One of the things that we did this year … was to take the places where the Nixon Administration has been skimming money off the top of appropriations to fund the operation of his office and go ahead and consolidate those into transparent appropriations,” said Fitzpatrick.

Those changes were made under a Republican-controlled legislature even though a Republican – Eric Greitens – is now governor.  Fitzpatrick said he wants to see all future governors prevented from similar uses of state dollars.

“If any governor, regardless of their party, goes beyond their constitutional authority to work within the appropriations and the appropriations language that we give them, then I think it’s incumbent on a legislative branch to bring that into check,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick said Governor Greitens’ staff was very “cooperative” in making those changes in the budget, and he hopes the Greitens administration will never get to the point at which the legislature must respond to inappropriate use of state dollars.

Fitzpatrick believes the state Constitution is clear regarding how the governor’s office can and cannot use tax dollars.  He thinks previous budget chairmen and legislatures were not stern enough in taking Nixon to task over the practices found in the audit.

“The executive branch has been willing to overstep their boundaries and their constitutional limitations, but the legislative branch has been not really willing to react to that and create consequences that were strong enough to discourage the behavior from continuing into the future,” said Fitzpatrick.  “If we see that again, my position is that we should create consequences that would really reduce their desire to go beyond their authority.”

The current state budget became effective July 1.

Legislature’s budget proposal would save Summer Jobs program for young adults

The budget passed last week by the state legislature would save a program that helps low-income youth enter the workforce.

Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) budget proposal would have cut all funding to the Summer Jobs League within the Department of Economic Development.  It had $8.5-million last year.  The House had proposed restoring $6-million to the program.  It compromised with the Senate to fund it at $4-million in fiscal year 2018.

Representative Bruce Franks (D-St. Louis), Junior, was responsible for making sure that program received some support.

“I’m happy with the $4-million.  Do I wish it was more?  Of course, but at the end of the day we’ll be able to put some young folks to work,” Franks said.

The Summer Jobs League gives 16- to 24-year-olds from low-income homes in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas work opportunities in fields they’re interested in.  The League pays up to $8.50 an hour for 240 hours.  Business owners don’t have to pay those employees while they are enrolled in the League, but often hire those employees after their time in the league is up.

Franks said it provides important opportunities for young adults whose lives might otherwise lack structure.

“To be able to come in here and get this structure and work at amazing places like Ballpark Village and the Scottrade Center, and our police department, circuit attorney’s office … lawyers’ offices, doctors’ offices, just to get them on the right road,” said Franks.  “It’s more than just, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you a job, you work a couple hours.’  It’s a fundamental, comprehensive way of fighting crime from the root cause by providing the resources that we lack in our economically distressed communities.”

Franks emphasized the program is not just about getting jobs for “kids.”

“It’s about young adults, between the ages of 16 through 24, who get on the road to viable employment through Summer Jobs,” said Franks.  “This program has saved lives; has gotten people on the road to different careers, different trainings, even in my particular business with some of the youth we’ve been able to hire who have moved on to work in corporate offices.”

Franks hopes in future years he can work to put more funding into Summer Jobs to see it offered in more parts of the state.

“The object is to make a viable program for all of the state of Missouri in every single part of Missouri – rural areas, St. Louis City, Kansas City – that’s what it’s about.  It’s not just about one particular area because disenfranchisement doesn’t have a color.  It’s not biased at all,” said Franks.

The budget has been sent to Governor Greitens for his consideration.

Earlier story:  House budget plan would save program to get low-income youths into workforce

Legislature coming down to the wire this week on FY ’18 budget proposal

The legislature’s top responsibility enters its final push this week, as Friday is the constitutional deadline for it to propose a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Beginning tomorrow, selected House and Senate members will work to negotiate a compromise between each chamber’s budget proposals.  Any compromise the two sides reach must then be voted on by 6 p.m. Friday to be sent to Governor Eric Greitens (R).

The House proposed that the state should for the first time fully support the formula for funding K-12 schools.  Early discussions in the Senate suggested it would do otherwise, but it decided to follow suit.  That was the top priority for House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), and with both chambers agreeing on it, he says his priority now is clear.

“A balanced budget,” Fitzpatrick said.

Getting there by Friday, however, will be challenging.  The difference between the two chambers’ budget proposals is somewhere beyond $100-million.

Fitzpatrick said much of that difference is in projects the Senate added when they were planning not to fully fund the K-12 education formula.  When the Senate voted to instead fund the formula, it didn’t remove those projects.

“Now that the formula is funded, I think the projects are going to be tough to [pay for],” said Fitzpatrick.

Another substantial difference between the two proposals concerns “Es.”  For several years, legislative budget makers have used an “E” at the end of a budget line to represent an open-ended spending limit.  This was often used in places where predicting how much would be needed over the course of a fiscal year was particularly difficult, and it would allow an entity to exceed the budgeted amount if necessary.  The effort to remove Es began several years ago, and the House proposed a budget that completed that removal.

The Senate restored some Es to various places in the budget.  Fitzpatrick wants to remove those in the final compromise.  He said their presence in the Senate’s proposal also distorts how far apart the House and Senate plans are.

“So like for the budget reserve fund, we put a $25.5-million number in there.  The Senate put the E back on and made it $1, so that makes their budget actually appear $25.5-million smaller,” said Fitzpatrick.  “So really to compare apples to apples you have to add $25-million to their budget to see the difference.”

Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t know how many more such examples exist throughout the budget plans.

One line of particular importance to Fitzpatrick and others in the House is the state’s legal expense fund, which has had an E on it.  That line has been the focus of great legislative attention this year after the revelation that the Department of Corrections has settled millions of dollars in lawsuits in recent years in cases of employee harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

With an E on that line – the line from which comes the money for all settlements with the state – Corrections never had to come before a legislative committee to explain what was behind the multiple, large settlements.  Lawmakers say that kept them in the dark as to the environment and repeated issues in the Corrections Department.

The House’s proposal replaced that line with lines in the budgets of each state agency.  That meant any future settlement would come out of the involved agency’s budget, and if it had so many that it exceeded what the legislature appropriated, it would have to explain why to lawmakers.  The Senate returned the legal expense fund to being a single line in the budget.  Fitzpatrick and House members strongly want to see the House’s version restored.

House and Senate conferees begin meeting Tuesday morning.  Their goal is to have a compromise ready for each chamber to vote on by Friday.  Failure to meet the state Constitution’s deadline could mean legislators will have to meet in a special session, after the regular session ends on May 20, to complete a budget.

House budget proposal attempts to strengthen defunding of abortion providers

The budget proposed this week by the Missouri House attempts to strengthen an attempt started last year to defund abortion providers.

Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The current fiscal year’s budget includes language that intended to keep all money appropriated by it from going to hospitals or clinics that perform abortions.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross proposed that prohibition, and said it needed to be strengthened.

“Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently [the Department of Social Services] was confused, and has chosen not to implement until recently … in this last month,” said Ross.

The House voted to adopt language offered by Ross for this year’s budget to use the definition of “abortion services” found elsewhere in state law.  Republicans including Sonya Anderson of Springfield said they hope this will clarify to the Department the legislature’s intent.

“Time and time again we have heard from our constituents that they do not support their tax dollars being used to fund abortions.  Last year we thought we had put a stop to this … yet here we are again a year later and Missouri is still sending taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is the largest abortion provider in Missouri,” said Anderson.

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty called the amendment a “continued attack on women.”

“I think that amendment, while its target may be Planned Parenthood, this is going to cause some issues to our hospitals as well,” said McCann Beatty.

The statutory definition of “abortion services” includes not only performing abortions, but encouraging or referring a patient to have one.  Raytown Representative Jerome Barnes (D) said that means facilities besides Planned Parenthood could lose money.

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Talking about abortion and providing fact-based information is not the same thing as providing abortions.  While the amendment maker may indeed target one particular provider, I am very concerned that any women’s health provider could be swept up in this amendment,” said Barnes.

Kirkwood Representative Deb Lavender (D) said the healthcare of women statewide could suffer under the prohibition.

“We are now in this amendment saying if you refer somebody for an abortion out of your facility, we’re not going to pay.  This now affects federally-qualified health facilities,” said Lavender.  “Make no mistake:  you think infant mortality in the Bootheel is high today?  Wait until you pass this amendment because you are going to prevent women from getting healthcare.”

Democrats also argue that tax dollars are already prohibited from being used to pay for abortions, but Republicans including Anderson say that isn’t enough.

“The taxpayers’ money is still going to fund Planned Parenthood.  It may not just be specifically for abortion but Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services in Missouri, so they do benefit from those taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson.

Ross’ amendment was adopted 115-35.  It is now part of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that the House has sent to the Senate for its consideration.  The Senate will begin its work on that proposal next week.

House budget plan would save program to get low-income youths into workforce

The single biggest change the House made during floor debate of its budget proposal this week would continue a program that aims to help low-income youth enter into the workforce.

Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, saw that Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting all funding to the Summer Jobs League within the Department of Economic Development.  Franks proposed taking $6-million from unused funds in two programs within Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to restore it, and the House voted to accept Franks’ proposal.

The Summer Jobs League gives 16- to 24-year-olds from low-income homes in the St. Louis or Kansas City areas the chance to work in a business in a field they’re interested in.

“It’s really a comprehensive approach to youth violence prevention,” said Franks.  “We serve the underserved:  the highest crime rate areas, highest poverty within the city.”

The largest portion of the state’s appropriation to the Summer Jobs League will pay the salaries of the youth participants – up to $8.50 an hour for up to 240 hours.  Franks said that is part of the incentive for businesses to participate.

“The jobs and the small businesses really benefit from having extra employees that they don’t have to pay that payroll, or that salary, so it really helps the small businesses when they can get three or four youth, teach them a great program, how to work, how to own their own business,” said Franks.

Participating businesses often hire the Summer Jobs League youths after their League term has expired.

Franks said Summer Jobs works in conjunction with other programs such as Prison to Prosperity, which helps youth in the St. Louis region transition out of prison.

“Now we’ve got youth that are getting out going straight to a job, straight to financial literacy, financial empowerment.  Summer Jobs doesn’t just offer summer jobs.  It offers 24-hour mentoring, behavior modification, job readiness training; all these different things to get you not only ready for the workforce but to continue on within the workforce,” said Franks.

Franks’ proposal earned praise from Republicans including Versailles Representative David Wood, who called it a better use of TANF dollars, “to catch the youth, get them into summer job programs, and teach them how to work early on.”

House Budget Committee Vice Chairman Justin Alferman (R-Hermann) said Franks, “worked extremely hard to find the funding for this program.”

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said her law firm participated in Summer Jobs, and she worked with several young people through it.

“It is a great opportunity to work with these students, and sometimes you are the most positive influence that they have,” said McCann Beatty.

Franks thanked Alferman as well as House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R), Budget Committee member Representative Crystal Quade (D-Springfield), and others, for helping him find money for the League.

Many of Franks’ fellow lawmakers commended him on being a freshman member of a superminority who secured a large change in the state’s budget, but Franks said that’s not what he felt good about.

“It feels great because I was able to help the underserved.  It feels great because I was able to work across party lines and we were able to come together to serve my community,” said Franks.  “All too often the community that I serve has felt like they’ve been left out, and to have representatives on both sides truly care, truly vote in the interest of the people, that matters more than anything.”

The House’s budget proposal has been sent to the State Senate, which will propose its own changes.  Once the two chambers agree on a spending plan, it will be sent to Governor Greitens.

House budget proposal could mean fewer DUI checkpoints on Missouri roads

If the House’s budget proposal stands, Missourians might see fewer DUI checkpoints on state roads over the next fiscal year.

Representative Galen Higdon opposed language in the House's FY '18 budget proposal that would keep state and federal funds allocated by that budget from going to DUI Checkpoints. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Galen Higdon opposed language in the House’s FY ’18 budget proposal that would keep state and federal funds allocated by that budget from going to DUI Checkpoints. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House proposed language that would prevent money controlled by that budget from going to such checkpoints.  House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said this is largely because of data indicating checkpoints aren’t effective enough compared to other enforcement methods.

“I looked at the data … on what’s the best way to get drunk drivers off the road, and according to data from [the Department of Transportation], the best way to do it is saturation patrols,” said Fitzpatrick.  “Last year alone, saturation patrols resulted in a little over 3,000 DWI arrests.  Checkpoints resulted in about 1,200, at a cost of over $1,000 per arrest when you look at how much we spend on the checkpoints.”

Lake St. Louis Republican Representative Justin Hill, who formerly worked for the O’Fallon Police Department, also said saturation efforts are more effective.  He encouraged fellow lawmakers to give those a try for the twelve months of Fiscal Year ’18.

“Let’s look at the numbers, and I’m sure you will see, and your constituents and your police departments will see that this is more effective and is least impacting innocent individuals that might otherwise go through a checkpoint,” said Hill.

Representative Galen Higdon (R-St. Joseph) is a former Buchanan County Sheriff’s Deputy.  He coordinated checkpoints for the last four years before his retirement.  He believes checkpoints have reduced crashes in his district, so he opposed the new language.

“[Checkpoints] are an efficient way to reduce intoxicated or impaired drivers on our highways,” said Higdon.

Representative Justin Hill supports language in the House's FY '18 budget proposal that would discourage DUI checkpoints for what he believes are more effective efforts. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Justin Hill supports language in the House’s FY ’18 budget proposal that would discourage DUI checkpoints for what he believes are more effective efforts. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) chairs the budget subcommittee on Public Safety.  She said when the idea to bar state funds from going to checkpoints came up she heard from numerous law enforcement agencies, victims groups, anti-drunk driving groups, and others who opposed the change and were “upset” about it.

She said checkpoints and saturation efforts can work in conjunction, and said the latter actually work better when the two are used together.

“While [saturation efforts] are good methods as well, a lot of them hinge on DUI checkpoints because it drives people nearby to avoid the checkpoints,” said Conway.

Proponents of the change also said there are questions of whether checkpoints violate Missourians’ rights, and said saturation efforts are also more effective at dealing with other violations of the law besides impaired driving.

If the language becomes law, nothing in Missouri law would prevent law enforcement agencies from conducting checkpoints.  They simply would not be able to use money allocated by the state budget to do so.

The House’s proposed budget plan next goes to the state Senate for its consideration.

House budget plan proposes nearly $3-million for education on new voter photo ID law

One of the things House Democrats wanted in the chamber’s proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year, they got.

The House voted to move $1.5-million from an election administration improvements fund in the Secretary of State’s office to go to the implementation of the voter photo ID law approved by voters in November.  Specifically that money is for educating voters about the new law so that they can comply with it when they go to the polls.

St. Louis City Democrat Peter Merideth wants that education process to include direct mail; something the Secretary of State told the House Budget Committee he wasn’t planning to use.

“When we run campaigns, when we try and reach out to voters about elections, there is no better way to reach voters than direct mail, especially in rural parts of the state where people may not even have internet, may not even have cable,” said Merideth.  “Direct mail reaches these people.  That is the best way to let them know about their new rights and responsibilities.”

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, said the needs of educating people about the new law can vary from community to community.

“If we’re going to present something new, something that we haven’t had, we have to have adequate education on informing every single community, every single district that we have,” said Franks.

The change would bump the funding available for voter photo ID education to nearly $3-million.  The House’s earlier proposal for funding it with about $1.4-million was based on what the Secretary of State had asked for.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) supported Merideth’s amendment.

“I’m not saying that they can or will spend this money, but they have a plan.  If for some reason their plan doesn’t work, having another tool in the toolbox is reasonable,” said Fitzpatrick.

The measure initially failed but after a motion to reconsider the vote, many Republicans sided with Merideth and Fitzpatrick and approved it.

It becomes part of House Bill 12.  The House is expected to vote Thursday on whether to send that and the rest of the budget bills to the Senate for its consideration.