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GOP senator filibusters budget bill over First Steps funding

   

 

senateJEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers considered legislation on Thursday that would pit funds for low-income seniors against those for children with disabilities.

The bill, House Bill 2, came up as part of the body’s debate over the state’s $24 billion dollar budget. The bill appropriates funds for primary and secondary education throughout the state and assumes the repeal of some $55 million in tax credits for low income seniors to fund First Steps, a program for children with disabilities.

Essentially, the General Assembly’s budget is balanced, in part, under the assumption that the so-called “Circuit Breaker” tax credit is eliminated, which could face a tough climb in the Senate. Gov. Jay Nixon recently announced his opposition to its elimination.

State Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, stood for several hours on Tuesday to block passage of the bill until he was given assurances that the budget would provide funding for the program regardless of the reppeal of the tax credit. As Silvey’s filibuster went on, Senate leadership opened channels with House leadership to reach an agreement. They informed Silvey of it, and Silvey allowed the bill to move forward.

“The deal is that there are a couple of bills over there that we can use as vehicles to put in language that creates the senior protection fund,” he said. “Create the fund, and order the treasurer to transfer an amount from General Revenue into the fund that would cover those programs, or at least cover First Steps, and that we would put that bill on the governor’s desk.”

In the House, Rep. Michael Frame, D-House Springs, called a point of order on HB 2, saying that budget bills could not be passed with contingent funds. His motion was defeated. Speaking with reporters, House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, said he had recieved “no details” about a compromise deal from the Senate.

Eliminating the tax credit was something proposed in the House, and agreed to by Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, during the conference committee. Soon after Silvey’s filibuster ended, lawmakers in the House took up SB 350, which would establish the “Senior Services Protection Fund” and would eliminate the circuit breaker cut.

Nixon said in a statement that he was against eliminating the Circuit Breaker credit on its own, despite the fact that his own Tax Credit Commission called for its elimination in recent years. Nixon said he would only consider it as part of a “balanced approach” to tax credit reform and opposed the bill.

“It is so troubling that budget negotiators in the House and Senate are now engaging in a cynical attempt to pit children with developmental disabilities who are enrolled in the First Steps program against low-income seniors who benefit from the renters’ tax credit,” Nixon said, adding criticism of the lawmakers for voting to approve funding for a new state office building at the same time.

The public sparring exposed a rift between Schaefer and some other senators. Speaking on the floor, Schaefer thanked House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream for his work this year, and commented that it was better than in years prior — when Silvey was chairman of that committee.

Other lawmakers expressed concerns that the fund swap was executed in conference committee, not in either the House or Senate budget committees — a potential breach in the tradition of not changing items where both bodies had already agreed.

“The conference committee process was injured and there now is a dark shadow that didn’t have to exist because of the failure of one,” said Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis. “The Senator from Boone,” referring to Schaefer, “created an error in judgment by making this switch.”

Speaking with reporters later in the day, Dempsey said while he was “a little” surprised by the public sparring, he thinks it just comes with the territory of the high-profile, high-pressure job.

“By the time it gets to the floor, it is a little hard for me to interject myself,” he said. “But I’ve seen other years where you’ve seen a dustup on the floor, but you just have to find a way to work through it. So I’m bouncing back and forth across to the House and we got it worked out.”