Missouri lawmakers pass pared-down state budget
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House on Wednesday passed a stripped-down state budget for the upcoming fiscal year in anticipation of plunging revenues because of the coronavirus.
House lawmakers slashed core agency budgets by roughly $146 million compared to this year and cut more than $450 million in planned new government spending, including a 2% raise for state employees.
The next fiscal year begins July 1.
Legislators have been off work for weeks over concerns about spreading COVID-19 by gathering in the Jefferson City Capitol building. They returned Monday in an attempt to overhaul next year’s budget, which originally had been based on rosier revenue projections made before the virus ground the state’s economy to a halt.
State colleges and universities face the brunt of budget cuts. The House version of the budget would slash state aid to those schools by 10%.
“It’s not an easy thing to do,” Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith said. “But again, we are looking at a tremendously difficult budgetary outlook here.”
House members softened a roughly $7 million cut to public K-12 school busing down to only $2.2 million.
The measure now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Under the House draft, Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s administration would have the authority to spend close to $1.3 billion in federal funds on the State Emergency Management Agency’s response to COVID-19, including building new sites to care for patients and buying ventilators if needed.
Other federal aid in the budget includes $90 million for nursing homes where someone has tested positive for COVID-19 and $66 million for child care providers.
The Republican-led House also banned the state from spending money on expanding who is eligible for Medicaid. That’s significant because supporters of greater access to government health insurance are trying put it to a public vote in November.
House Democrats argued expanding health care could be a boost to the state’s economy.
“If you don’t feel well, you don’t work well,” Kirkwood Democratic Rep. Deb Lavender said. “We want healthy people in this state to expand our economy (and) to be available for the creation of jobs that we hope come our way.”
But Smith, the budget chairman, said expanding access to the program amid declining revenues and growing costs to fight coronavirus would be a “budgetary disaster.”
Lawmakers face a May 8 constitutional deadline to pass the budget.