The House Budget Debates: Appropriations bills perfected after long day in the chamber

  

JEFFERSON CITY, – The Missouri House began the process of perfecting the state’s budget Tuesday morning, taking up the appropriations bills. Before taking up the legislation, both parties had agreed to each side getting a total of three hours each to use as they please in the process. After more than six hours of debate and amendments, the House gave initial approval to all 13 bills. The process, which lasted for several hours, began in earnest with the House taking up HB 1, which focuses on public debt.

HB 1: Public debt vs. tax credits

The House’s budget recommendation calls for $42 million to satisfy the necessary funding needs for funding money to the Board of Fund Commissioners to be used for the cost of issuing and processing bonds, a number that both the House and Gov. Eric Greitens agreed on.

HB 1 may have been the easiest appropriations bill the House will work on this session, as only one amendment was put forward on the bill.

Rep. Kurt Bahr’s amendment called for the elimination of all tax breaks and the usage of those funds to settle state debt.

“I appreciate the gentleman’s sincere desire to protect revenue, but I’ve got a couple issues,” Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, said.

Carpenter asked Bahr why he was pushing forward legislation when Gov. Eric Greitens has put together a committee to look at tax credits, and the amendment would undercut that.

“I’m not sure why we want to go against the governor,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter went on to say that the amendment was a farce, as it was not actually going to move anywhere, and that the only tax credit that any action had been taken on was the circuit breaker tax, which Democrats have called an attack on low-income seniors and disabled folks.

“It’s a lot of talk. I’m a little annoyed by talking about eliminating tax credits on one hand and then actually only eliminating one that is for poor old folks. The General Assembly can do better than this with our words and actions,” Carpenter said.

Following that, Bahr withdrew his amendment, and HB 1 was laid over as the House moved on to HB 2. Each bill was laid over after going through the amendments, so as to enable the legislators to move back to the bills if needed.

HB2: Talking Priorities in Elementary and Secondary Education

The House Republicans have touted the fact they have succeeded in fully funding the education foundation formula in the state budget this year, but education has remained a topic of much contention. HB 2 carries an impressively large price tag of more than $6 billion, and the Republicans’ effort marks the first time in the history of the state that the House is going to fully fund the foundation formula. It’s a record amount for elementary and secondary schools which includes nearly $3.4 billion in basic aid for K-12 school districts.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick began the work on HB 2 reiterating those points, but he also pointed to successes in restoring money to K-12 transportation, an area that had been cut heavily in the governor’s budget proposal, a move applauded by many.

“I commend the committee’s efforts. Our kids need money, and our schools need money,” Rep. Sarah Unsicker said. “However, I am concerned about the funds that have been cut.”

Some of the cuts Democrats have pointed to include less funding to Great Circle, and what used to be Boys’ Town.

Michael Butler speaks to the floor during the budget perfection session. (Travis Zimpfer/MissouriTimes)
Michael Butler speaks to the floor during the budget perfection session. (Travis Zimpfer/Missouri Times)

“Clearly $36 million restored is going to help everyone’s district, and yet we still know that we’re underfunding the original,” Rep. Michael Butler said.

“Our work is not done here,” he continued. Butler pointed out that the foundation formula had been fully funded, but only to meet the changes that had lowered the formula cap last year, calling for more to be done going forward.

Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, pointed out that no members of the committee made any amendments in that regard during the budget committee’s work.

HB3: Higher education takes some hits

K-12 may have fared rather well under the state’s budget, but higher education did not.

Last year, this particular item in the budget proved to be the headliner, as lawmakers questioned funding to the University of Missouri System, particularly the University of Missouri. Tension between the Legislature and the school was palpable following the events on the Columbia campus in regards to racial issues at the school in Nov. 2015.

This year, the House plan would cut funding for most institutions by about 6.5 percent, but the UM System, however, would be cut by 9 percent. The only upside is that cut is smaller than what Greitens had called for.

“It is worth noting that Mizzou was cut more than others,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t like more than any of you what has happened over the past few years, but there is a new president, and he is making changes. A 9 percent cut in one year is significant, and the message we are sending is going beyond punitive reductions.”

“Are we frustrated with the University of Missouri? Most of us would say yes,” Fitzpatrick continued. “Is it prudent to envelop them in a further budget? No. I think we need to draw the line at that.”

In the end, the representatives defeated several attempts that would have cut more from the UM System. Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, offered two amendments that would have removed an additional $1 million from the system’s budget for various other projects.

Most noted that the changes hurt the system, not just Mizzou, meaning negative effects on UM St. Louis, UM Kansas City, the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, and the extension schools.

The House also spent a large chunk of time discussing an amendment put forward by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, which sought to decrease the Lincoln University Land Grant Match by $500k. Christofanelli said that Lincoln would still get $2 million, just asking they return the $500k for the EDAF.

That measure failed on a voice vote, as did another amendment seeking to provide in-state tuition to students living here illegally.

HB4: No toll roads, no DUI checkpoints?

HB 4 focuses on funding for the Department of Revenue and MoDOT, carrying a total price tag of $2.8 billion.

The House Budget Committee made certain to include language that ensures that no funds will be used for any costs associated with toll roads on Missouri highways. That point turned out to be the main focus of debate while attempting to perfect the bill on Tuesday afternoon.

Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer serves as the chairman of the House Transportation committee and says MoDOT is already looking into toll roads in the Show-Me State.

Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, put forward an amendment seeking to delete that same language from the budget, saying the state has made a habit of not properly funding its transportation infrastructure.

“I’d hate to see this taken off the table,” Corlew said. “It’s very shortsighted for us to completely tie our hands behind our back.”

Rep. Justin Alferman speaks from the floor on one of the amendments to the House budget. (Ben Peters/Missouri Times)
Rep. Justin Alferman speaks from the floor on one of the amendments to the House budget. (Ben Peters/Missouri Times)

Alferman, however, fired back, saying he was concerned about the fact that the toll road conversation always seems to be centered around I-70.

“I don’t want to fund the entire state’s transportation infrastructure on the backs of communities hugging the I-70 corridor,” Alferman said.

In the end, Corlew’s amendment failed with a voice vote.

The House also debated giving approval to an amendment put forward by Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, addressing a cut to the three-week Missouri Scholars Academy program by taking $250,000 from lottery advertising.

“I think we all know the idea is good,” Carpenter said. “Do we want to spend state tax dollars on promoting the Scholars Academy, or promote gambling? That’s the choice.”

“Folks who buy lottery tickets are still going to buy tickets,” Merideth said. He went on to quote his Republican counterpart, Alferman, who had earlier in the day said that the best return investment was Missouri students. The measure passed with a voice vote, but when asked for a roll call vote, it was shut down after the opposition whipped enough votes.

The House also used wording in their amendments to consider prohibiting drunk driving checkpoints, noting that studies suggest they are not as effective as saturation patrols. Members of the House argued that checkpoints were a violation of a person’s rights, as it puts away due process and requires the person to prove innocence.

HB5: “We do not budget by earmark”

HB 5 appropriates money for the Office of Administration’s’ functions, including budget planning, accounting, IT department, the Ethics Commission, and more.

The most noteworthy item from this bill was probably Bahr’s successful amendment seeking to use money from the budget reserve transfer fund to increase funding for independent living centers by $600,000, which passed easily with a voice vote.

Democrats also used this time to question the funding in regards to the governor’s chief operating officer, but Republicans had little interest in spending much time on it, best illustrated by Rep. Jay Barnes telling the amendment maker, Rep. Cora Faith Walker, that if she didn’t like it, then perhaps she should run for governor and change it. The amendment failed with only 42 members voting in support.

HB6: Making a point with Conservation

While dealing with the departments that affect the largest industry in the state, the most interesting and controversial item to come from this particular bill was the second amendment filed by Rep. Redmon.

Redmon’s amendment sought to address the fact that the Missouri Department of Conservation had continued paying more than $100,000 to former MDC Director Robert Ziehmer after having parted ways with them. Redmon proposed taking $500,000 from Conservation.

Rep. Tracy McCreery said that Redmon’s bill was just an attempt to get people’s attention, but all it would really this would make it hard for the Conservation Department and punish the wrong people.

“We shouldn’t hurt this agency more just to make a point,” Rep. Michael Butler said.

Despite those calls, the amendment passed.

HB7: Just cleaning up

HB 7 appropriates money to Economic Development, Insurance Financial Institute, Professional Registration, Labor and Industrial Relations, and while it sounds like a lot, of big, important and technical terms, the number of amendments filed was not.

Rep. Travis Fitzwater’s attempt to move the STEM program from the Department of Economic Development into HB 2, as it pertains to education, was easily passed. Every member of the House voted in favor of making the move, marking one of the only actions of note on HB 7.

HB8: Upping Task Force 1

Having pushed through seven other bills, the House members finally began to wear down as they reached the halfway point. But the lawmakers made a point of ensuring that Missouri’s emergency elite would have the resources they need by giving an additional $100,000 to Missouri’s Task Force 1 and another $100k to the St. Louis Area Regional Response System Rescue Committee. Those funds came from the Neighborhood Watch ($25,000), firefighter training ($38,000) and grants to volunteer fire protection associations ($137,000).

HB9 and the Death Penalty

HB 9 focuses on the more than $760 million for Corrections. Once again, Merideth caught people by surprise with his amendment in this bill.

He proposed that no state funds be used to pay doctors to administer medicine to end life.

“This is essentially a vote on the death penalty,” Fitzpatrick said.

“This is a policy of our state to say we will not spend money ending life,” he said. “It doesn’t actually prohibit execution.”

And, he was correct, since his language just took away the ability for medical professionals to administer drugs. It did not prohibit other forms of execution the state may deem as options.

However, Merideth’s amendment failed with a final vote of 14-90.

HB10: Three strikes for Rep. May

HB 10 focuses on health and mental health, with $2.18 billion and $1.4 billion budgets, respectively.

House Democrats held back until this bill, using their time to fight for Medicaid, but to little avail.

“We’ve had this language for years to try and make sure they do not unilaterally expand Medicaid,” Fitzpatrick said at one point. “What I would say is that if you have a problem with the language in the budget, sue me.”

Rep. Karla May fought for mental health, filing three different amendments to add more funds in a minimum amount of $1.5 million for a mental health pilot program to give mandatory prevention. May tried to spread it out over three funds, pulling from different locations, but each attempt failed with a voice vote.

HB11: Medicaid expansion down, Franks’ victory

HB 11 is the biggest bill in terms of dollars, covering $9.36 billion out of the state’s $27 billion overall budget. Everyone in the room knew that the Democrats would put up a fight in regards to Medicaid. House Amendment 6, filed by Rep. Martha Stevens, sought to remove the Medicaid expansion prohibition, which was promptly shut down in a roll call vote, a clear sign that no compromise was to be found in regards to Medicaid expansion.

One significant win for the Democrats was the passage of Rep. Bruce Franks’ amendment, which would set aside $6 million for summer jobs. The House passed the measure in a voice vote.

HB12: Show me the money for public defenders

“I call on Missouri legislators to reverse the House Budget Committee’s misguided attack on Missouri’s consumer protection fund.  These resources are critical to our newly created Anti-Trafficking Unit to fight human trafficking in our state. The Budget Committee’s action also endangers the No Call List and law enforcement actions protecting veterans and seniors. Cuts to these essential services will harm all Missouri citizens and especially the most vulnerable.”

That was the statement from Attorney General Josh Hawley after the Budget Committee voted to take away $6 million from his office’s funding during last week’s markup. People have anxiously waited to see how the House would handle this measure, with some supporting the move, others calling it unconstitutional. It finally came into play at 8 p.m. Speaker Pro Ten Elijah Haahr presented an amendment seeking to return the funds from their original designation.

Rep. Deb Lavender, the member who had filed the amendment last week, argued that the funds were needed.

“We can not only fight trafficking but also fund public defenders,” Lavender said, noting that the Attorney General’s office had given funding in the past.

She also noted that public defenders are violating the constitution due to the fact that they do not have the time or resources to represent offenders, often carrying caseloads of 150-200 cases. Lavender also pointed out that the state is currently being sued by the ACLU for not providing proper and adequate representation.

“Do we have the authority to do this? Yes. We did it in the budget last week, and we can do it now,” she said.

Despite that, lawmakers voted to return the money to the Attorney General’s office with 102 members voting in favor.

The House also debated funding for Voter ID, but despite an impassioned argument from Merideth, the measure was voted down.

HB13: Statewide leasing made easy

“The state has leases, and we should pay them,” Butler said, representing the only comment on the bill, which was echoed by all.

The end of the night… sort of

The long-awaited “I do” came from Fitzpatrick’s mouth just before 8:40 p.m. on Tuesday night after being asked if he would yield.

The House then began voting on the measures, with each bill passing on a voice vote. But after approving HB 1, everything came to a halt. That’s when the budget chair and Bahr came together to ask that the amendment regarding Voter ID be reconsidered.

The House agreed to bring it up once again, and it passed 133-15, doubling the funds available to nearly $3 million in order to make voters aware of the new law requiring photo identification at the polls.

The House then perfected the rest of the 13 bills, wrapping up just after 9 p.m. They must now third read and pass the budget, which is expected to be done by the end of Thursday.