JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – “Senator, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you the vice chairman of the appropriations committee?” Sen. Rob Schaaf asked.
“Unless something changed while we were at ease,” Sen. Ryan Silvey replied.
“I thought so,” Schaaf said. “So, tell me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it just usually kind of tradition that the vice chairman be on the conference committee?”
Silvey replied that it was.
With just a few days left to put the finishing on the touches on the state’s $27.8 billion budget, the Senate needed to announce their picks for the conference between the House and the Senate this week, and it needed to be done quickly.
Senate leadership finally got around to picking five senators to represent them in conference this week on each bill, but their picks came with some confusion.
Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, was not on a single committee.
Silvey’s resume in the budget process rivals that of most legislators. He’s served on the conference committees for the past six times they’ve met, as both the youngest House budget chair in the history of the state and as the current vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee.
“I’m kind of wondering… what’s going on?” Schaaf asked after the names for the committees were read on the Senate floor Monday evening.
“It’s probably because I voted to fully fund education,” Silvey said.
“You mean to say that you voted to fund the foundation formula?” Schaaf exclaimed.
“I did,” Silvey said. “At my own peril.”
Schaaf said it seemed that Silvey was “being spanked for doing the right thing for kids.”
And it seems there’s some truth to that, as senators banded together on the floor last week to fully fund the formula, going against the leadership’s direction.
Schaaf said that he felt a certain “sadness.” saying that their “proceedings seemed to degenerate into this level of action.”
“It’s just sad that things would go this way and that people would be treated this way. It actually makes me not only sad, but a little disgusted,” Schaaf said.
But this isn’t the first time the senators have butted heads with the leadership. In fact, it’s not even the first time that Silvey has openly opposed leadership. Silvey has spoken out against Senate President Pro Ten Ron Richard with strong words in recent weeks, addressing concerns of corruption and ethics.
“Gov. Greitens told us for over a year during the campaign that there was a culture of corruption in Jefferson City,” Silvey said. “Sen. Richard has been both Speaker of the House and the President Pro-Tem of the Senate. If in fact there has been corruption in our Legislature, then Sen. Richard either presided over it or was ignorant of it. Neither is a hallmark of strong leadership.”
Richard has recently taken flack for allegations of corruption, with some claiming he filed legislation for conservative mega-donor David Humphreys, a Joplin businessman who had contributed $100,000 to Richard just a few days after the senator filed SB 5.
SB 5 would institute large changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MPA), which is designed to protect consumers from false or erroneous advertising when products cause injury or monetary harm.
Humphreys’own company, TAMKO Building Products, Inc. is currently facing a class action lawsuit for allegedly faulty shingles.
But on top of that, the Kansas City senator made a point of questioning Richard last week about an item that had been slipped into the Senate’s budget, a $1 million appropriation to be put toward private hangars at the Joplin airport, the same district that Richard represents, and home to Humphreys.
Humphreys’ company has two jets listed under TAMKO that fly from Joplin’s airport, and the appropriations of $1 million for an airplane hangar has left a number of people scratching their heads in confusion, particularly as to why the state should pay for a private hangar and why it’s a priority over other issues.
“We have a $1 million earmark for the construction of hangars at the airport in Joplin, which is in your district,” Silvey said to Richard on the Senate floor. “I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about that project.”
“Sure. There’s such a demand for hangar space that the city would like to build more so that they can increase the fuel tax, so other airports can share,” Richard responded.
“So, this wasn’t asked for by a department, it wasn’t in the governor’s recommendations, or in the House’s recommendations,” Silvey said.
“It was asked by the airport manager for the last two years,” Richard replied.
Silvey asked how much the state would be paying for as compared to the airport.
“You know, I don’t remember, but I think it’s a paid for a part, they gotta pay for the infrastructure to get to it,” Richard said. “The airport is responsible for the concrete and paving, this is just for the hangar itself.”
Richard said it had been in the budget last year, too, and was withheld.
“Well, they did it last year, too, they withheld it. That’s how it works around here,” Richard replied.
Silvey says that while legislators have had to fight for so many things in the budget, from Medicaid and other programs, the President Pro-Tem put a priority on putting funds in for the hangar. He says that’s up to them to prove the necessity.
“The Missouri Times article today is the first I learned of proposed legislation of state funding for hangars at the Joplin airport,” Humphreys said in a statement. “TAMKO already has the leases needed to operate out of the airport for many years ahead. We have modified our hangar to meet our specifications and have no interest in any additional hangars. Also, as a taxpayer, I see no need for this project and certainly would support efforts to save these funds for a rainy day (like the one we’ve just suffered).”
When asked if he thought all of that had lent itself to leadership’s decision to exclude him from the conference, Silvey said it was possible.
“It’s what we’ve come to expect from Sen. Richard,” Silvey said. “Clearly, a lot of the people that fund Ron Richard’s campaigns are not my biggest fans, and I think he listens to them more than he does to reason.”
“I’ll be honest about it,” Silvey said. “Fully funding the foundation formula was my biggest priority in this budget, so since that’s already taken care of, I’m fine.”
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.