The Missouri House passed a $34 billion state budget on Wednesday that reflects the economic costs of COVID-19.
House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Neosho, said the plan includes $146 million less compared to the state’s current budget. However, Smith said that Missouri is doing much better than most states during the virus outbreak.
“From having managed our budgets appropriately in recent years and carrying forward cash from one year to another and not spending all the money ... those types of good budgeting practices have positioned us better than some other states,” Smith said on the House floor during the budget debate Wednesday.
The proposal, which is for the fiscal year beginning on July 1, cut $700 million from what Gov. Mike Parson asked for when he laid out his budget projections in January. Parson has since reworked those projections and knew changes would be needed.
Smith said despite the spending cuts, this proposal prioritizes the K-12 education funding formula.
“It’s important to note that the foundation formula is fully funded in this bill,” Smith said. “Some of the cuts we had to make were mostly related to new decision items. Our hope is to try to keep a minimal impact on K through 12 education, and that’s what I believe we’ve done here with this budget bill.”
House Democrats say the budget is unbalanced and they’ll need to return later in the year to make adjustments.
“The failure to craft a sound budget likely will require a special legislative session this summer to take corrective actions,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield. “Although the present circumstances are unusual, they are not an excuse for doing a shoddy job on the most important, and only constitutionally required, task lawmakers must perform each year.”
The debate got heated during a discussion about Medicaid expansion, which is likely to be left up to voters in November. Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, said states that expand receive $500 more per person, while states like Missouri continue to lose out on federal dollars.
Smith, and other Republicans, argued against expansion and said the growing cost of Medicaid in the state is affecting several essential programs.
The budget does not include raises for state employees, who are among some of the lowest paid in the nation, or the more than $50 million requested for the Missouri Department of Transportation to fix bridges. There is also a 10% cut for the state’s higher education institutions.
Federal stimulus dollars may help some areas experiencing cuts, but the state still needs guidance on how the money can be spent.
The budget is broken up into separate pieces of legislation. Each bill was passed largely on party lines with most Democrats voting against each proposal. Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said ‘no’ votes aren’t opposing the funding in the bills.
“A ‘no’ vote is saying we need to do better,” he said. “It’s saying that this budget does not reflect the values and the morals of our state and the people we represent. That is why I vote ‘no’ on this bill.”
While many Missourians are still under a statewide stay-at-home order, the 163-member House has desks that are inches apart and shared microphones. Many in the chamber wore masks, but some did not. At his press briefing on Tuesday, Parson said lawmakers’ work is “essential,” so social distancing in the chamber wasn’t a pressing concern.
The budget bills now head to the Senate for approval.