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Missouri lawmakers pass budget boosting funding for education, infrastructure

Missouri Budget
Posted at 3:54 PM, May 10, 2024

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Friday to a roughly $51 billion state budget that boosts funding for education and infrastructure projects around the state.

The spending plan for the fiscal year starting July 1 now goes to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who had originally proposed spending more but can only cut — not add — to what the GOP-led Legislature gave him.

Lawmakers completed the budget just hours ahead of a 6 p.m. Friday deadline set by the state constitution, capping a sometimes tense and divisive debate among majority-party Republicans over how much to spend.

“The end product is a good, sound, fiscally responsible, conservative and prioritized budget,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough said.

Democrats complained that the process was abnormally secretive and asserted that lawmakers should have spent more from the state’s budget surplus on public services and schools.

“We left out our vulnerable Missourians from our budget,” Democratic Rep. Deb Lavender said.

The budget plan includes $120 million more in baseline funding for public K-12 education, plus $33 million to help schools raise the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 a year.

Higher education institutions would get a 3% increase in core funding.

Building on a plan approved last year to widen Interstate 70 across Missouri, lawmakers this year agreed to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into expanding Interstate 44 to six lanes near Springfield, Joplin and Rolla.

In a departure from tradition, lawmakers also earmarked millions of dollars from general funds for particular local road projects, supplementing the funding decisions typically made by the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

“Our roads and bridges are going to be vastly improved across the state,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Cody Smith said.

The budget was sprinkled with funds for numerous other local projects, including improvements to the Springfield Cardinals minor league baseball stadium and development near the newly built soccer stadium for the Kansas City Current.

Work on the budget had been delayed last week in the Senate amid a standoff between chamber leaders — who wanted to pass a $4.5 billion hospital tax program before tackling the rest of the budget — and the Freedom Caucus.

Members of the GOP faction spent the better part of two days last week filibustering in an attempt to pressure Parson to sign legislation defunding Planned Parenthood, which he had been expected to do and eventually did Thursday.

Meanwhile, House and Senate budget leaders had been negotiating behind closed doors to iron out a compromise rather than airing differences over spending priorities in committee hearings.

The biggest disagreement between the House and Senate was over the total cost of the budget, with the House pushing for roughly $50 billion compared to the Senate Appropriations Committee's recommended $53 billion.

The final version was smaller than originally sought by Parson, who warned that underfunding could delay payments on inevitable bills.

“All you’re doing is just passing that on to the other legislators,” Parson told reporters Thursday.

The budget includes a 3.2% pay raise for state employees and also increases the state payment rate for some health care providers, including nursing homes and those serving people with developmental disabilities.

Senators in the Freedom Caucus on Thursday sought to amend the budget to ban government spending on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. But those amendments were voted down.