Still waiting on tuition freeze deal, House committee signs off on budget bills

   

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The House Budget Committee has officially wrapped up their work, sending the proposed $28.7 billion budget to the House for approval.

Working on the 13 bills Wednesday afternoon, the committee’s work list consisted of more than 80 proposed amendments from the committee members, as well as an another 60+ changes from budget chairman Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick.

The biggest takeaway from the committee’s work over the course of more than ten hours was in education.

The only amendment that was brought forward for the budget of the Department of Higher Education was that of Fitzpatrick. His amendment would reallocate collaborative programs to “respective institutional cores.”

It removed $12 million from general revenue and replaced it with $10.2 million, and was passed with a voice vote.

The significance of this amendment is that Fitzpatrick’s proposal would grant $37 million in core funds, as well as fund Access Missouri to the tune of $30 million, with one stipulation: universities and colleges must hold tuition at current levels.

“If the institutions are going to try to get all the money back and raise tuition, I just don’t like that,” Fitzpatrick said.

No agreement has been reached yet, but Fitzpatrick said that the talks are still ongoing.

One of the first items targeted with amendments was the foundation formula in the education bill, HB 2002.

The first amendment heard by the committee was a $15 million amendment to the budget, proposed by Rep. Kurt Bahr, removing $15 million from the Small School Grant Program and consolidate school districts and add it to the Consumer Directed Services funding and eliminating the 60 percent cost cap.

He withdrew the amendment after several members spoke in opposition, with Rep. Craig Redmon saying it was not Bahr’s place to “force consolidation.” Rep. Lyle Rowland said that even tinkering with one line is still tinkering with the education foundation formula.

Rep. Bart Korman’s amendment, which sought to decrease the funding by $10 million and add it to foundation transportation, was withdrawn for similar reasons.

“The foundation formula is not a sacred cow, it’s a policy with a whole lot of numbers to it,” Bahr said, noting that nobody there had even been present when it was established. He noted that the foundation formula needs to be looked at more closely and that a more equitable way of figuring where the dollars are used should be found.

Fitzpatrick said that when they do not fully fund the formula, it could create distortions and cause problems among the school districts, saying that it was his intention to fully fund the formula to keep the status quo.

MoDOT wasn’t immune from the work of the budget committee, either. Both Reps. Spencer and Korman had amendments seeking to ensure that MoDOT would be prohibited from using appropriations for the advancement, development, study or anything relating to toll roads, Spencer’s was passed.

An amendment seeking to boost pay for MoDOT employees further than the proposed state worker increase that Greitens proposed was shot down, though the sponsor noted that turnover continues to be an issue for the department.

The committee also shot down a proposal diverting $250,000 from a state computer upgrade to fund neighborhood watch programs in St. Louis, and also rejected rep. Kathie Conway’s plan to take $499,999 from saturation patrols and putting it toward vehicle checkpoints.

One of the hot topics during last year’s budget work was the metal detectors, and once again it reared its ugly head. This time, however, it was Bahr attempting to be proactive about the metal detectors. He put forward an amendment that took $1 from the Capitol Police budget and set it aside for metal detector maintenance, in an effort to prevent any further funding being used against the wishes of the legislature.

Some tense moments arrived late in the night when the committee was discussing the Bourbon virus. Rep. Justin Alferman put forward some amendments related to the Department of Health and Senior Services.

The first one, which passed with a voice vote, cut DHSS’ director’s budget by half, removing 10 full-time employees.

The second would remove the state health lab from the Dept. of Health and Senior Services and put it under the Dept. of Public Safety, questioning their ability to do the job.

When Rep. DaRon McGee asked whether the Dept. of Public Safety was willing to take on the state health lab, Rep. Fitzpatrick said it didn’t matter what they thought, refusing to hear from DPS on the matter.

“That’s bullshit,” McGee said.

After standing at ease for a few minutes, both Fitzpatrick and McGee returned and apologized before proceeding.

The committee also approved an amendment by Rep. David Gregory, which takes $496,500 from the Medicaid Reorganization Project and placing it the Missouri Health Net Task Force.

One of the biggest shocks of the night might have been the fact that, for the second year in a row, Rep. Deb Lavender put forward an amendment, and one of the groups affected by the change was not present to defend their funding. Last year, it was the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, this year, it was the Department of Agriculture.

The bills now head to the House, though they are not expected to be taken up until after spring break. Fitzpatrick said they will most likely bring them up that following Monday and lay them over.

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