The Missouri House gave first round approval Tuesday to a package of budget bills spending $46.2 billion, with Republicans defeating repeated Democratic efforts to tap the state’s record surplus.
The budget includes boosts to higher education funding, both for institutions and scholarships, as well as funding one of last year’s most controversial issues, Medicaid expansion. During debate, Republicans blocked Democratic amendments to make large increases in funding for school transportation, teacher pay and home health care for people with disabilities.
The biggest point of contention as the debate started was whether to tap into the general revenue surplus that could be $3 billion or more at the end of the fiscal year in 2023. Gov. Mike Parson’s original budget proposal anticipated a surplus of $1.5 billion and cuts in the House Budget Committee were expected to increase that to $1.8 billion.
But revenues are growing at a brisk pace, far exceeding expectations. Instead of contracting by 0.5%, as estimated in December, tax receipts grew 5.6% through the first nine months of the fiscal year. That would generate an unanticipated $686 million by June 30 and make the starting base for the coming year that much bigger.
The House operates under a balancing rule that bars members from increasing general revenue spending in one area without cutting it in another. House Democratic Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield tried in vain to convince the House to suspend that rule and use a portion of the surplus.
“If you think Senators aren’t going to spend that money, you must be new here,” Quade said.
Republicans, who opposed Quade’s motion, said saving the money is the most prudent course.
“You are going to hear consistently from the other side of the aisle that we are not spending enough money,” House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said.
During the course of the debate, state Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis, ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, tried repeatedly to tap the general revenue surplus without finding cuts elsewhere. He tried to spend $100 million to give schools grants for increasing teacher pay, add $215 million to school transportation needs and provide more than $100 million more for state colleges and universities.
Most of his large amendments never came to a vote because they were deemed to violate the balancing rule.
On most other amendments, a word of opposition from Smith was enough to prevent passage.
Democrats also failed, with a few exceptions, in most other attempts to change the budget …….