Missouri budget funds teacher fundraisers and billions in projects

The Missouri Legislature on Friday approved a $49 billion budget — the largest in state history — that uses a treasury full of cash to fund increases in funds for teachers, tax breaks income, rural road works and a variety of improvement projects across the state.

the The House and Senate voted to advance a total of 17 budget bills through Gov. Mike Parson’s office, with one bill serving as the second supplementary budget for this fiscal year that ends in about two months. The deadline to complete the budget was 6 p.m. Friday. Parson has until July 1 to sign the budget bills or veto them. The budget passed last year was $35 billion.

“We had a great opportunity to do a lot of good with the budget, we have resources this year that allow us to do transformative things around the state,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Dan Hegeman. , R-Cosby.

Money to increase both the salaries of new and existing teachers, Medicaid expansion, school transportation, rural roads and the state pension system were all included in the final draft after a committee of conference spent hours Wednesday to find compromises.

Increased investment on many fronts driven by record surplus from rising incomes as well as more than $2.8 billion in federal coronavirus relief funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“This is hands down the best budget this state has ever seen, but certainly in my time,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said.

But not everyone was happy with the increased spending.

“Remember that while we’re going through and these dollars are used for living expenses, they won’t be there next year, and we’ll have to make tough decisions next year and the year after that,” he said. said Senator Denny. Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said.

Education expenditure

The K-12 education funding bill totals more than $10.3 billion alone.

One of the items originally proposed by Parson, cut by the House but eventually restored, was more than $21 million to raise the minimum annual salary for new teachers to $38,000. Currently the minimum is $25,000 which is one of the lowest in the country.

The plan is set up to be a 70/30 split between state and local funds to raise those salaries.

The state has also allocated more than $37 million to Career Ladder, which is an elective program that offers teachers with at least five years of experience in the state the opportunity to earn more money if they accept a additional work as professional development opportunities.

In addition, the bill invests more than $214 million in school transportation. The state is fully funding its share of the transportation formula for the first time in years.

On the workforce development side, the state is pouring money into several programs, including $5 million for a high school geospatial training program for St. Louis that is associated with National Geospatial Intelligence. City office.

Single tax credit

Amid Friday’s budget debate, the Missouri House also voted 104 to 30 to pass a bill giving certain Missouri taxpayers a one-time credit. Legislation that will now go to Parson.

The bill uses $500 million in general state revenue to reimburse residents for what they paid in income taxes, up to a limit of $500 for those who file taxes themselves and $1,000 for couples filing jointly.

They would only go to Missourians who paid income taxes for the past tax year. Also, since the funding allocated to credits is a finite amount, it is not a guarantee that a taxpayer would receive the full amount they paid.

House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said he would have preferred his version of the bill that allocated $1 billion in public funding to appropriations, but would “not let the perfect to be the enemy of the good”.

“It’s giving money back to taxpayers when we’re in a situation where the state government has too much of it,” Smith said.

The credit contains a salary cap, which means that if a single person earns more than $150,000 per year or a couple more than $300,000, they would not qualify.

That cap was introduced by Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, who also spoke in favor of the tax credit on Friday.

“If we can give them a little extra money to make ends meet or help them buy groceries or whatever, I think that’s a good thing. [way to] spend the money,” Rizzo said.

House Democrats didn’t share the same enthusiasm for the credit, with many saying the relief should go to Missourians who need it most, as opposed to people earning up to $150,000 a year.

Rep. Barbara Phifer, D-Kirkwood, said it’s a missed opportunity to give back to people in need and just because someone doesn’t pay income tax doesn’t mean they does not contribute to the state in other ways, such as sales taxes.

“What we’re doing is really discriminating against young families here in Missouri today. And I feel really sad about that. We could have done this differently,” Phifer said.

Transports and pensions boosted

A variety of areas saw increased spending credited to record receipts.

In transportation, the legislature allocated enough money to restore Amtrak service to two trains a day between St. Louis and Kansas City instead of the current one.

Additionally, lawmakers added $7 million to the state’s public transportation systems, bringing that total to more than $8.7 million.

They also approved 0 million for the maintenance and repair of rural roads in Missouri.

“It’s great to have this in there to meet the needs of rural roads which continue to deteriorate and hopefully we can move forward and pay a little more attention to low volume roads” , Hegeman said. .

The legislature also approved Parson’s request to add $500 million to Missouri’s retirement plan for state employees, known as MOSERS.

This year’s budget also fully funds Medicaid, including its expansion.

While an attempt to give the legislature the power to appropriate funds annually for population expansion, including the option of not funding it at all, passed the House, the funding is in the budget.

Part of the bills funding the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Human Services that have come under criticism was language prohibiting state funding from going to facilities other than a hospital that performs abortions or a branch of such establishments.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said the language is designed to fund Planned Parenthood and called the attempt to legislate through the budget process unacceptable.

“What we’re going to do is put 45,000 Missourians at risk of not getting the screenings they need when they need them because they’re going to be busy trying to find a place that can accommodate them and provide them. these services,” Schupp said.

Nearly $3 billion in federal spending

In addition to the bills funding the operating budget, the Legislature also had billions of federal dollars to allocate to projects and programs throughout the state.

The bill contains more than $2.8 billion in federal funds, most of it from the American Rescue Plan Act. This includes statewide projects such as broadband development as well as college improvement projects.

The plans also include more than $104 million for the construction of a new crime lab within the Department of Public Safety as well as more than $1 million at the department for sexual assault kit testing.

Counties and cities also received their share of federal dollars, with funding for more than 10 projects in the St. Louis area alone, including $15 million for the removal of vacant city-owned and condemned properties, as well than $40 million for the University of Missouri. St. Louis for its “Campus of the Future” project, which includes the construction of buildings.

However, the bill was criticized by some members of the House on Friday, saying they had not had the opportunity to both review the bill and negotiate. The Senate passed it the night before, and the House did not pass a conference motion.

The state has until the end of 2024 to allocate funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Some members of the House wanted to use more time.

“This is an opportunity for us to step in and say, ‘No, call us back for a special session.’ Let’s do it the right way. Let’s make sure everyone’s voice is heard,” said Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis.

Others disagreed.

“It’s the product of a long series of compromises and I’m going to stand with our budget chair. I believe we got a very good deal for the House and I think we should vote yes,” he said. said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters.

Ultimately, the bill passed 114-16.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

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