Missouri House budget leaders are preparing to confer with their counterparts in the state Senate about the two chambers’ respective budget proposals.
The House last month passed the 13 bills that make up the proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Its plan laid out more than $28-billion in spending. The Senate spent the last month going over that plan and making changes to it, and this week endorsed its own proposal totaling more than $28.6-billion. Now the two chambers will have to work out an agreement between the two versions that can be sent to the governor by May 11.
“[The Senate] spent a little more money than we did but I think that they have a good budget plan that is workable for conference,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).
Of the more than $570-million dollar difference between the two chambers’ spending plans, roughly $261-million comes from the Senate proposing spending in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget that the House plan would address in a supplemental budget early in calendar year 2019, when better data would be available on how much must be spent in some cases.
As far as the various components of the budget, Fitzpatrick said the greatest difference between the two chambers’ proposals in terms of dollars is in what each would spend on K-12 education. Full funding for the K-12 education formula in Fiscal Year 2019 would be about $99-million. The House proposed that, while the Senate took the position found in the governor’s budget proposal of spending $48-million.
“[The Senate] did use some of that money within House Bill 2002, which is the education budget bill, so we have the flexibility of moving some of that around,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s not a secret that one of my top priorities is fully funding the [K-12 education funding] formula and keeping our commitment on the pre-K expansion that most of the members that are serving today made a few years ago, that once we fully funded the formula that that expansion would be available.”
The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Representative Kip Kendrick (Columbia), said the Senate’s proposal for K-12 education funding is concerning and House members would work to maintain its position on that.
“I was happy to hear the chairman of the committee, Representative Fitzpatrick, talking about making sure that we’re going to hold that line, and I can tell you that we’re going to do whatever we can to hold that line for the foundation formula to make sure that we get back to that $99-million mark,” said Kendrick.
One issue that has already been settled is that of higher education funding and limiting tuition increases at all but one of the state’s publicly-supported colleges and universities.
The House chose to restore $68-million to higher education support that the governor proposed cutting, but only if institutions agreed not to increase tuition by more than one-percent in fiscal year ’19. Those institutions agreed except for Missouri Southern in Joplin, which House members agreed is in a financial situation dire enough that they were allowed to opt out. The Senate proposal has upheld that plan.
“It wasn’t something that the House could do on [its] own so we appreciate the Senate working with us on accomplishing that,” said Fitzpatrick. “I think it will result in a positive outcome for the families and students who pay tuition in the State of Missouri.”
Kendrick is also glad to see that plan preserved but has some concern with the Senate breaking out funding for special initiatives at colleges and universities, which typically go toward projects including construction and expansion. The House had rolled the money for those items into the core allocation for institutions.
“Those received additional funds but I have concerns that those have been line-itemed back out rather than wrapped up in the core. [The House] moved them into core to protect those lines. We have some concerns that with them being separated out that they become more vulnerable for complete withholds or vetoes – just more vulnerable out there standing alone – so we’ll do what we can to move those back into the core,” said Kendrick.
Kendrick is also concerned about more than $4-million that the Senate proposed moving out of funding for treatment courts in Missouri – those are drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts.
“[Those are] services that have been proven very effective in reducing recidivism rates. The actual recidivism rate for an offender coming out DOC is about 50-percent recidivism; treatment courts is around 15-percent recidivism,” said Kendrick, who has personally worked with people going through mental health courts. “It does keep people out of prison. It keeps them in services, making sure that they are properly rehabilitated and receiving the services they need.”
Kendrick wants to see the House work to hold its position on the support for treatment courts.
Other differences between the House and Senate spending proposals that either Fitzpatrick or Kendrick highlighted concern funding in the social services budget for nursing homes; whether state-appropriated money can be used for DUI checkpoints; funding for autism services; and increases in state employee pay, including a Senate proposal to boost pay specifically for corrections officers – a proposal Fitzpatrick said the House would try to find a way to concur with.
Fitzpatrick will begin next week meeting with his Senate counterpart, Senator Dan Brown (R-Rolla), and each chamber will begin selecting members for committees that will meet to negotiate compromises on each of the 13 budget bills.