The Missouri House spent nine hours Tuesday debating the $50.7 billion state budget, with Republicans voting down most ideas from Democrats to add to the spending plan, even amendments that would restore cuts to Gov. Mike Parson’s proposals.

There were fights over higher education funding, child care subsidies and where Missouri should deploy the National Guard — to the Texas-Mexico border or to cities within the state where officials want help controlling crime. 

Democrats wanted to restore Parson’s 3% funding increase for colleges and universities, which was cut to 2% by House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, but the amendment failed. They wanted to increase child care subsidies, but the amendment failed. They wanted the $8 million dedicated to Parson’s deployment of the National Guard to Texas to be used for fighting crime, but the amendment failed.

Other failed Democratic proposals to change the budget would have increased services for people with disabilities through centers for independent living, cut children’s health premiums and removed the cap on a key variable that determines how much money is given to public schools.

The marathon floor session ended with voice votes on the 17 bills that make up the budget. The next step will be roll-call votes Thursday to send the bills to the Senate. Lawmakers have until May 10 to complete work on a spending plan for the year that begins July 1.
Democrats, who hold fewer than one-third of the seats in the House, are accustomed to defeat when they offer budget amendments. Their biggest complaint is that the state has plenty of money — Missouri is sitting on an historically high surplus — but House rules put that surplus off limits. Any amendment that spends general revenue must have a corresponding cut somewhere else in the budget as presented.

“It is hard to find general revenue when the budget chair has decreased the governor’s recommendation by $1.9 billion,” said state Rep. Deb Lavender, a Democrat from Manchester.

Smith, however, said it was his duty to align ongoing spending with the state’s revenue stream.

“We have worked long and hard at the process to make sure that general revenue spending is not greater than what we project our ongoing revenues to be,” Smith said during the debate.

General revenue, which totaled $13.2 million in the year that ended June 30, is expected to fall slightly during the current fiscal year and remain almost flat in fiscal year 2025. Through Friday, tax collections were showing a slight increase of 0.5% for the year to date.

During a discussion of education spending, state Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, was critical of the rules that put the surplus off-limits.

“This time let’s actually use some for something that will make a difference,” Merideth said.

The budget is nearly $2 billion less than proposed by Parson in January, with most of the cuts in spending from federal funds dedicated to specific programs or available because of COVID-19 relief efforts. Smith cut a net of $136 million of the $15.1 billion in general revenue spending sought by Parson, but also shifted around hundreds of millions more.

He removed items like a $52.8 million plan to redevelop the old Missouri State Penitentiary site for tourism and $100 million in extraordinary transfers to a fund dedicated to repair and maintenance needs of state facilities.

One of the biggest additions is $363.7 million that would go to a fund for improvements on Interstate 44. Another is $100 million for low-volume roads in rural areas.

The spending plan includes $3.8 billion for public schools in the foundation formula, $360 million for school transportation and $1.3 billion from a dedicated 1% sales tax delivered on a per-pupil basis. That will push the per-pupil amount to about $1,512, up 50% since fiscal 2020.

Other big-ticket items in the budget include a 3.2% pay raise for state employees, a boost in state grants to support teacher pay to make the minimum salary $40,000 and $1.5 billion to expand broadband access in rural areas.

The closest Democrats came to securing a large increase in any program was Lavender’s amendment to add $97 million to services for the developmentally disabled. The money would have gone towards raises and new staffing to support people currently housed in hospitals, shelters and jails.

“This will finally get the provider rates to where they can hire and care for the most vulnerable in our community,” said Lavender. 

State Rep. Dirk Deaton, a Republican from Noel and vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, opposed the increase, which would have been paid for with federal funds. That money requires a state match from general revenue, he said.

“This is empty authority,” Deaton said.

The amendment failed on a 66-77 vote, with 27 Republicans joining every Democrat in favor. 

There were a few fights among Republicans, including whether the state should allow any development of a trail on the old Rock Island railroad line, recently acquired by the state for use as a trail. 

State Rep. Bruce Sassman, a Republican from Bland, tried to remove language barring any spending on “maintenance, rehabilitation, restoration, and repair of the Missouri Rock Island Trail Corridor.” 

The sticking point for Republicans is whether landowners along the line are due payments for conversion of the rail corridor to trail use.

“We’re not going to do anything that is going to allow money to be expended to further this project until those property rights issues have been resolved,” said Rep. Scott Cupps, a Shell Knob Republican.

State Rep Tim Taylor, a Republican of Bunceton, backed Sassman’s proposal to lift the ban. He said property owners along the trail want fences to protect their property from interference from the trail.

“There are landowners with cattle, there are landowners with property, who are looking forward to this funding to build those fences,” Taylor said.

The amendment failed on a 60-77 vote.

The biggest change in the budget from the version brought to the floor was a cut that removed $53.4 million in federal funding from the Department of Health and Senior Services for COVID-19 mitigation and prevention. The sponsor of the amendment, Republican state Rep. Mazzie Christensen of Bethany, said only $3 million was spent last year from a similar appropriation, all for radio ads promoting a coronavirus vaccine.

Democrats failed in an attempt to force Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft to rely on Attorney General Andrew Bailey, rather than private counsel, to defend the rule he portrays as protecting investors from “politically motivated” financial advisers.

Ashcroft’s office hired outside counsel, Ed Greim of the prominent Republican law firm Graves Garrett, and asked for $1.2 million in the budget. Democrats tried to stop him from taking the money from the investor education fund.

Ashcroft is a candidate for governor and Greim contributed $2,825 to his campaign and $1,500 to his joint fundraising PAC.

“He should not be using this money, which is dedicated to very specific purposes,” Merideth said, “to pay for his campaign.”

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