JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The House Budget Committee has officially started working on the state budget.
Legislators received Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year last week, and after three business days, the committee met for the first time with the budget in hand.
Tuesday morning’s hearing featured testimony from State Treasurer Eric Schmitt and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft regarding the funds allocated for their offices.
Schmitt says budget from previous year should be enough
Schmitt kept his presentation brief, as his proposal was similar to the ones his predecessor, Clint Zweifel, had used. The Treasurer’s office is requesting an operating budget of $2.85 million for core operations, the same as that of the 2017 fiscal year.
“What’s unique about this budget is that it is funded almost entirely by interest on the state’s investments,” Schmitt said. “So we get nine basis points for the investments that we make in the office, and that really funds our budget outside of a million dollars for some state liabilities for outlawed checks are between one-year and three-years-old. We hold that in reserve for those checks, but really, everything we do It’s well below the statutory authorization of 15 basis points.”
The budget would allow the office to continue working with the same number of full-time employees, 50.4, also identical to the previous year.
“We’re doing more than ever with fewer employees,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt noted that his office has already broken the record for the number of unclaimed property returns, and expects to continue with the success of the unclaimed property program.
— Eric Schmitt (@Eric_Schmitt) January 19, 2017
Schmitt also said that his office would be launching the Missouri ABLE Act later this year, a bill establishing a disability savings program that Schmitt had sponsored during his time in the Senate. Schmitt says that they’re not asking for any more money for that. He says they also intend to launch a financial transparency initiative, revamping the linked deposit program, and seeking increased participation in the MOST 529 college plan.
One item in their budget that would change from last year is their request that a $12 million payment for the Edward Jones Dome moves from the Treasurer’s office budget and into the Office of Administration.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is set on eliminating unlimited funds in the budget. He asked that the Treasurer’s office and the Secretary of State both try to give the most detailed and accurate numbers, as he said they intend to try and remove all of the “E” items from the budget.
When asked if he wanted estimates on one of the listed ‘E’ items, Fitzpatrick responded, saying he wanted them on “anything that has an ‘E’ that you guys care about.”
Ashcroft says more funds will be needed for photo ID
Ashcroft appeared before the committee next to present the proposed budget for the Secretary of State’s office. He and his team have been looking to reorganize the office, and the new Secretary of State hopes to find places to save the state money in their budget.
“Our operating core and the governor’s recommendation are the same, staying at $15,649,502,” Ashcroft said.
The current budget proposals cover for election services, records, security, libraries and business services, but this year, it also must incorporate the implementation of Voter ID, which Missouri voters passed in November. The new law is set to go into effect on June 1.
That particular issue is expected to draw hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to put in place, and the issue before the legislature now is figuring out how to fund it.
Greitens has recommended $300,000 for the implementation of Voter ID laws in the budget, $100,000 for his office’s role, $100,000 for Ashcroft’s office, and another $100,000 for the Department of Revenue.
The previous administration had requested just under $4.26 million for the Secretary of State’s office just for the publication of notices, letters and pamphlets to inform voters as to what the requirements are, how they can vote, and what sort of ID would be accepted.
“We are currently looking at that number because we can make that $4.26 million ask smaller,” Ashcroft said. “That is a request for over two years, and included some things not required under the law, like sending multiple letters to every registered voter in the state.”
Ashcroft says they can save money there by going through the records and identifying the voters who already have an approved ID.
“We don’t necessarily see the need to send them a letter telling them they can get a free driver’s license if we know they already have one,” he said. He also says he plans to utilize community leaders, as well as visiting with voters in person to spread the message
Ashcroft says he believes that with some of those changes, the $4.26 million estimate could be dropped to roughly $2-3 million.
Vice Chairman Justin Alferman says he’s happy to see the new Secretary of State making changes.
“This $4.2 million number is a farce at best,” Alferman said. “I think using this number from the previous administration is not the most effective use of our tax dollars.”
“I cried up and down last year to the previous secretary that the entire fiscal note was using old data,” he continued. “We had a voter record list from ’09, and a Department of Revenue list from ’12, so by the time the bill even passed, we had data that wasn’t reflecting what the actual budgeting would be.”
Some may be concerned about the low appropriations from Greitens on the issue of photo ID, but Republicans seem to be relaxed for now, saying they will work out a solution between the involved parties.
But with the committee’s first day of work on the budget completed, they know they still have a long to-do-list ahead of them.
It continues with a number of presentations scheduled for the upcoming days, including presentations from the Auditor, the Department of Revenue, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety on Wednesday.
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced 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.