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Finishing touches: Conference committee hashes out budget differences

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Over the course of six hours, the final round of alterations was made to the state’s roughly $30 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Lawmakers appointed to the appropriations conference committee hashed out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the FY 2020 operating budget on Tuesday. Compromises were struck, language and dollars argued, and by the end, the puzzle that is the budget was completed.

One of the highest profile compromises regarded language on who is eligible for in-state tuition at Missouri’s public universities.

Since 2015, the budget has required undocumented immigrants protected under Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to pay international rates at colleges and prohibited those students from receiving scholarships.

The House maintained the language while the Senate had stripped it out of the budget.

It was Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman who offered the “compromise,” which was ultimately settled on. His proposal — backed by Republican Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Lincoln Hough — would remove the international tuition requirement but still ban DACA students from receiving scholarships.

“They live here, they have grown up here,” said Holsman, who as a teacher taught undocumented students. “These kids are as American as anyone else without a piece of paper that says so.”

Supporters maintained removing the language would not guarantee undocumented immigrants in-state tuition; rather, it simply allows colleges to set their own policy — as schools did before the budget mandate.  

House Budget Chair Cody Smith expressed trepidation on the compromise. He argued taxpayer support is what allows public colleges to offer in-state tuition, thus Missourians would be subsiding undocumented immigrants.

The committee ultimately agreed to the compromise language.

Lawmakers also agreed to increase core funding for all public universities by $1 million with some, such as Missouri State University, receiving as much as a $10 million increase. State Technical College received a $500,000 core increase and $500,000 for deferred maintenance.  

Additionally, $10 million in lottery funds was allocated to the Fast Track grant program — provided pending legislation crosses the finish line.

The chambers opted to go with the House position on public school transportation — an increase of $5 million in funding instead of the $10 million proposed by the Senate.

Also, $100 million in general revenue may not be going directly to road and bridge repair, as proposed by the House, but $100 million of general revenue will still be spent on transportation infrastructure.

Lawmakers agreed to allocate $50 million in general revenue for an initial payment on a $301 bond for bridge repairs and another $50 million for a cost-share program with local municipalities to fund road repairs.

Some were still hesitant about setting a new precedent and using general revenue to fund transportation infrastructure — a first since the creation of the gas tax. Senate Appropriations Chair Dan Hegeman noted he was “willing to do it this one year.”

“I think we need to do our jobs, quite frankly, and look at a real solution to address the critical infrastructure in our state,” said Hough. “I don’t want to see it come back.”

Most concurred using general revenue for road and bridge repair was not “a long-term solution.”

Other highlights:

  • $5 million for rural broadband grants
  • $250,000 for victims of sexual assault
  • $5 million for lottery pull tabs
  • Capitol police will remain under the Department of Public Safety’s purview
  • $67,500 for virtual desktops
  • $347,338 for industrial hemp program
  • $5 million for Department of Conversation to study chronic wasting disease
  • $9.6 million for Missouri Works One Start
  • $350,000 for bicentennial celebration
  • $6 million in SEMA grants for flood recover ($2 million moved to HB 19)
  • $25,000 for Lieutenant Governor’s Buy Missouri Program
  • Mileage reimbursement rate increase from $0.37 to $0.43 per mile

The bills — of which 12 were in conference — need another vote by each chamber before heading to the governor’s desk.

The Consensus Revenue Estimate is projecting that general revenue collection for Fiscal Year 2020 will go up compared to the current year. Net general revenue collections in FY2020 are estimated to be $9.822 billion. This represents growth of $193 million over the estimated revenue for FY2019. The estimate for FY2020 assumes growth of 2.0 percent. The revised estimate for the current Fiscal Year is $9.629 billion.

Between general revenue collections, federal funds, and other sources of revenue the total budget for FY2020 — which starts July 1, 2019 — is $30,090,180,470. That figure includes one-time expense Capitol improvements.

The operating budget for FY2020 is $29.7 billion. The approved operating budget for FY2019 is $28.8 billion. Operating expenditures in FY2018 totaled $25.7 billion.

Differences between Senate, House budgets heading into conference committee