(Missouri Independent) – The largest state budget in Missouri history could also leave the largest surplus in state history at the end of the next fiscal year.
The Missouri House on Thursday sent 15 appropriation bills to the state Senate, one additional spending bill for the current fiscal year and 14 $46.5 billion spending bills for the coming year. The budget plan is $1.1 billion lower than that proposed by Gov. Mike Parson, including a $600 million cut to Parson’s plan to spend general revenue.
During the debate, many Democrats said the bills left too much money unspent. Income estimates made in December indicate that the current fiscal year will end on June 30 with nearly $3 billion in general revenue surplus, by far the largest in state history.
Since these estimates were made, revenues have greatly exceeded expectations. Based on this week’s trends, analysis by The Independent shows that this year’s surplus estimate could be $700 million too low. And if the House spending plan is the one that reaches Parson’s office, the surplus at the end of the next fiscal year could top $3.5 billion.
Using only the December estimates, the House plan would result in a surplus of about $2.2 billion at the end of the coming year. House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, during committee proceedings, estimated the surplus his plan would leave at $1.8 billion.
That’s why, for most of Thursday’s debate, Democrats said the plan was inadequate. State finances, they said, could support items as small as $21.8 million to raise the minimum teacher salary to $38,000, which Parson proposed and the The Republican-led House was voted outor up to $214 million to meet student transportation needs, which Parson did not offer.
The House also slashed Parson’s proposals to use federal stimulus funds by more than $500 million.
State Representative Peter Merideth, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, predicted that the Senate would not hesitate to spend significantly more than the House budget plan.
“I think they will be spending money on pet projects and campaign projects and I wish we had given them alternatives,” he said.
But some Republicans have said the budget plan is spending way too much, even with record surpluses.
“We have to draw the line somewhere,” Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, said. “I don’t know where he is but we passed him a long time ago.”
Smith said he was personally inclined to side with Lovasco.
“I never thought I would come to Jefferson City and be the guy who got his name on the bills to create the biggest budgets in state history,” Smith said.
Senate leaders said Thursday that the upper house would take a week to review the House plan before the Senate Appropriations Committee meets to review it. And they are unlikely to leave as much money unspent as the House.
“As far as I know, it’s about $50 million for 34 Senate ridings,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo. “And I don’t think there will be a lack of ideas here on how to spend it.”
That’s not exactly what Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said, but he said the Senate won’t try to match the House on frugality.
“I don’t think we’ll leave $1.8 billion in net income,” Rowden said. “I can probably say that with some level of certainty.”
The timeline set by Senate leaders would allow two weeks to reconcile the differences and pass the budget bills for the year. All spending measures must be passed by May 6.
While Democrats criticized the unspent amounts, they said they approved of most places where new funding was added. The Higher Education Funding Bill fully funds the three major scholarship programs – need-based Access Missouri, merit-based Bright Flight, and A+ Scholarships for Community Colleges – ensuring maximum rewards to the course of the coming year.
“I think the House has done a good job,” said Rep. Kevin Windham, D-St. Louis talked about funding for higher education.
The House approved Parson’s plan to give colleges and universities a 5.3% boost, but efforts to restore institutional budget cuts of the past 10 years and add funds to the budget of Lincoln University to fully meet its land grant matching requirement were defeated.
“We’ve done a good job when it comes to scholarships,” Windham said. “For core funding, we leave a lot to be desired.”
Every public higher education campus in the state would get a new or renovated building in the budget, paid for with federal stimulus funds. Federal funds would also purchase a new crime lab for the state, a new academy building for the Missouri State Highway Patrol, and a new indoor arena that seats 11,500 at the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia.
The funding bill also includes $411 million to improve water infrastructure and eliminate lead service lines and $275 million to improve broadband infrastructure.
Stimulus money comes from US Bailout Act, proposed by President Joe Biden and passed in Congress without any Republican support. It created one of the hottest scenes in the debate after Merideth said the House should thank the president for making this possible.
That brought state Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon to the microphone, where he blamed Biden for inflation, the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan and other ills plaguing the country.
“I don’t want to say thank you, Joe Biden,” Schroer said. “I want to say “Let’s go Brandon.””
Schroer was using a phrase adopted by ardent supporters of former President Donald Trump to represent the words “F**k Joe Biden” after a TV reporter mistook chanting at a NASCAR race for supporting the winner Brandon Brown.
State Representative Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, became furious.
“I ask everyone in this body, despite your political leanings or whatever elections you may have coming up, I would never have done this to a sitting President of the United States,” she said.