JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The largest budget in Missouri’s history is on the governor’s desk waiting for his signature after lawmakers spent Friday giving final approval.
Lawmakers were able to get the job done less than four hours before the constitutional deadline of Friday at 6 p.m. The spending plan totals $49 billion, roughly $10 billion more than last year’s budget. It includes increasing the baseline pay for teachers, fully funding the Medicaid expansion population and some Missourians are going to be receiving a tax credit.
“The winner in this budget are the citizens of the state of Missouri,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence). “We are really putting a lot of investment into infrastructure over the next few years.”
Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, there seemed to be a piece in the $49 billion budget that made everyone happy.
“It is making an unprecedented investment in K [kindergarten] – 12 education in the state of Missouri,” House Budget Chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said.
The Show-Me State has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, which is nearly 20% under the national average. This is why lawmakers have given initial approval of raising it to $38,000 a year, but if there are districts that have teachers already making $38,000, they won’t see the extra money.
“It’s going to be my first year in the House where I’ll be voting for all of these operating budget bills,” said Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis).
Lawmakers also allocated $214 million for school transportation, the first time it’s been fully funded since 1991.
“Fully funding school transportation, something that we’ve been funding before at 40% for the last number of years,” Merideth said. “We’re finally funding it at 100%.”
Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is being spent to increase minimum teacher pay from $25,000 to $38,000. The state would pay for 70% of the raise and the rest is on the district, but the money is only available for schools where currently teachers make less than $38,000.
According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) roughly 4,000 teachers make between $25,000 and $35,000 a year. This increase will cost the state more than $21 million.
There’s also $37 million dollars for the Career Ladder program in the budget, giving raises to experienced teachers. Under the state statute, teachers who take professional credits, mentor students, or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program.
Higher education is also getting a boost in funds, with $10 million going to community colleges and an overall 5.4% funding increase for all colleges and universities.
There’s also $50 million in the budget to help students recover from learning losses that occurred while schools were shut down during the pandemic.
Other budget items approved by the Senate committee, $2.4 million to fully fund the twice-daily Amtrak service that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City, known as the River Runner. The train was reduced to one trip a day back in January due to a lack of funding.
But there was still tension between the two chambers, especially when it came to the bill regarding how to spend the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.
“The House sent it over to the Senate very late and we didn’t have much time to work on it,” Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said. “It’s a time pinch is really where we got caught on this. It would have been nice to be able to work it out more but this is where we ended up.”
In one of the 19 budget bills passed Friday, lawmakers approved fully funding the state’s Medicaid program, costing $2.5 billion. Nursing homes and other providers will also see a rate increase from the state to care for low-income Missourians.
The ARPA budget totals $3.4 billion, most of it going to infrastructure projects and increasing broadband across the state. This money, although it doesn’t have to be spent until 2026, will be used for things like sidewalk and intersection improvements and wastewater projects.
“It’s $3 billion, no conversation, didn’t vet it and didn’t even debate it,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge (D-St. Louis). “This side of the team hasn’t been treated fairly, in my opinion on both sides of the aisle.”
There was heartburn among members that the Senate made their own changes to the budget, adding an additional $1 billion to the version the House sent over, and passing it less than 24 hours before the Friday night deadline.
“Once again, it happens at the last minutes of the last day to make it less likely that we are to push back,” said Rep. Tony Lovasco (R-O’Fallon).
Thursday evening, Hegeman added a non-refundable tax credit to a House Bill that would state employees to be paid every two weeks. It would cost the state up to $500 million and would be based on last year’s filing. Individual filers could get a rebate of up to $500 and married couples could see up to $1,000. An amendment offered by Rizzo put an income cap in place, not allowing any individual who makes more than $150,000 a year and $300,000 for a married couple to receive the rebate. The House passed a similar version earlier this session, a priority for House Republicans.
“They did that specifically to pressure us into accepting their priorities because they knew it would be hard to press the no button for appropriations for a tax credit that a majority of the people in this room support,” Lovasco said.
House Democrats stood up against the credit saying it wouldn’t go to the Missourians who need it. In the end, the bill ended up passing, sending it to the governor’s desk.
“We are doing our job and we are giving the people their money back,” said Rep. Scott Cupps (R-Shell Knob). “It’s not our money. It’s their money and we are going to give a little bit of it back.”
The ARPA bill also includes $83 million for a new Missouri State Highway Patrol training facility, $104.6 million to build a new crime lab for the Department of Public Safety, and $148 million for grants to federally qualified health centers (FQHC).
Even with the $500 million tax credit, and the large spending plan, Hegeman said the state leaves $1 billion on the table unspent.
Some things that didn’t receive approval from lawmakers, were a $500,000 increase to the attorney general’s office to hire five additional attorneys. This was a request from the House. Then, it was stripped out by the Senate after Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield) said Eric Schmitt, who’s running for U.S. Senate, continues to file lawsuits against schools for COVID mitigations.
Another was a request from the governor’s office to pay for a new state trail, along the Rock Island railroad corridor. Gov. Mike Parson originally asked for nearly $70 million in federal relief funds to develop the trail that would link up to the Katy Trail but was not funded in the spending plan.
The governor has until July 1 to either sign the budget, or he can veto any item within the spending plan.