JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri Senate’s journey to push out the state’s $27.8 billion budget has been a hurried effort, having received the bills later than usual, but Missouri’s upper chamber managed to knock out the budget with 24 hours to spare.
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, serves as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee and admitted that the budget this session was rather rushed, with the Senate having just 17 legislative days to work out the kinks.
And there was plenty to be worked out, as members of both chambers still had strong feelings about certain items, perhaps none more so than the proposed cuts to in-home care and nursing services.
Brown said that hard decisions were made in the conference committee, but the two groups managed to reach a level of care at 24 points instead of 27. He also noted that the agreement still allows for a 21 point count if the Senate passes the circuit breaker repeal.
“I tried my best, I just didn’t have enough money,” Brown said. “We spend a lot of our budget trying to help folks… but I’m not absolutely happy where I’m at.”
It’s a sentiment shared by many of the senators, with some saying they would have liked the opportunity to conference on it one more time.
But the House’s decision to adjourn until Monday afternoon made the decision for the Senate, leaving them with just two options: pass the budget or go to special session.
“Passing circuit breaker still leaves these populations compromised,” Sen. Scott Sifton said. “There will still be a cut in provider reimbursement, short of a special session.”
“Moving the 27 point down to 24, and making a choice about if we want to go to 21, I agree with you. These are choices that have been imposed upon us,” Sen. Jill Schupp agreed. “These are choices that we would not have been forced to make a couple of years ago.”
“We’re being pennywise and pound-foolish,” Schupp continued.
Sen. Rob Schaaf said he wasn’t going to filibuster HB 10 but would vote against it. He may have summed up some of the minority’s opinion when he stated that the bills would still pass and that he would be “sad and ashamed” to be a part of it.
In the end, the Senate passed the item with a vote of 22-11, perhaps the closest vote of the night.
But the biggest surprise of the day came when the Senate returned after recessing for dinner. Most expected the Senate to continue with the budget bills and take up HB 11, but the Senate moved to take up HCB 3.
That piece of legislation sought to repeal the circuit breaker tax credit and was the key piece to a compromise between the House and Senate budget conference committees. In short, the House had agreed to fund a level of 24 for in-home and nursing care, but only if the bill included language that allowed for a funding level of 21 if HCB 3 was passed.
Sens. Kiki Curls and Ryan Silvey worked together to put forward a new amendment to the bill, basically removing all of the languages and replacing it with new text, which caused much commotion amongst the Senate.
The new amendment would put a one-time deposit into the Missouri Senior Services Protection Fund by allowing the Commissioner of the Office of Administration to analyze the funds from boards, commissions, and funds and pull from them in order to fulfill the roughly $35 million needed. The bipartisan efforts would protect the circuit breaker tax credit for roughly 100,00 people while restoring health services to roughly 8,000 Missourians.
But some senators expressed concern about pulling from those funds, changing the entire meaning of the bill, and giving the commissioner a new power.
“We’re taking a bill and striking every word of that bill out, and putting in completely different language,” Sen. Will Kraus said. Sen. Bill Eigel warned the Senate of trying to give powers to other entities.
But after passing three amendments to limit the scope of which organizations could be affected, the Senate signed off on the amendment with a voice vote. They then passed HCB’s new language with a vote of 28-5. They passed the emergency clause by the same amount.
And while many in the Senate expressed pleasure to see another compromise, they remain cautiously optimistic, knowing that the new HCB 3 must still head back to the House for approval.
But, in the matter of one single day, both the House and the Senate managed to sign off on all of the bills, beating their deadline with 19 hours to spare.
Both Republicans and Democrats afterward spoke of the importance of starting off on a better foot next time, preferably without such a large hole to dig the state out of.
“My senators that were conferees signed every budget bill, every one of them, and I don’t think that’s ever happened in history,” Sen. Brown said. “They all gave a lot. At the end of the day, we got a really solid budget that we can be proud of, and what we hope we’ve done is crafted a budget that we can start next year where we aren’t $450 million in the hole. We’re trying desperately to avoid that, because then you put the executive branch totally in charge, and it needs to be equally divided amongst the three three branches.”
He noted that they funded public education at a higher level than what was required, and made a number of tough decisions to put forward a budget that was balanced.
“Although the state budget is far from perfect, we are making a record investment in public schools while preventing many of the draconian cuts proposed by the Governor and Republican majority to Missouri’s most vulnerable populations,” Minority Leader Sen. Gina Walsh said. “Going forward, we must address the underlying issues that have created our budget shortfalls before we reach a point where our only options are between the tough and the terrible.”
“We applaud the Senate’s bipartisan leadership on behalf of Missourians,” Amy Blouin, Executive Director of the Missouri Budget Project, said. “Given the contentious nature of politics nationwide, the Senate’s example serves a beacon for the nation about what can be accomplished when elected officials work together across party lines to address the needs of their constituents.
“The changes advanced by the Senate protect Missourians while buying our state more time to address the underlying policies that have created our budget struggles in the first place,” Blouin continued. “We thank them for their work, and look forward to similar leadership to ensure Missouri has the resources to fund the public services that provide the foundation for families, communities, and our economy to thrive.”
The House will return to session next Monday, but Sen. Mike Kehoe made it clear that the Senate will return to session on Friday at 9 a.m. with the intent of going to Senate bills for perfection and working their way toward his ethics bill.