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Wasson Report 5.3.12

Senate Passes State

Spending Plan

After two days of lengthy debate, the Senate passed its version of the state’s budget this week. Crafting the state’s spending plan is one of the most important tasks we face each year; it’s also one of the hardest. The Senate is made up of 34 members, each with his or her own priorities and concerns. Getting a consensus is not easy. In the end, though, we passed a budget that invests in educa­tion and funds the most essen­tial services of our state government.

First we had to deal with issues in the current fiscal year, though. Supplemental budget bills address funding issues that were not passed the previous year or arose from unexpected circumstances. The Senate approved House Bill 2014, which provides funding for a number of state departments, includ­ing $31 million to K-12 educa­tion to make up for a short­fall. The bill also gives around $10 million to the state foster care system and $32 million in state and federal money to pay for services in the Medicaid program. The bill was approved by the House on Wednes­day, sending it to the governor. Once signed, it will take effect immediately.

One of the Senate’s top priori­ties is education, and the budget we passed reflects that. The governor originally called for substantial cuts to higher education. We cannot continue to force our state’s colleges and universities to shoulder our revenue shortfalls. The Senate’s version of the budget restored that funding, keeping it at the same level as the year before. The Senate and House’s version of the budget also both allotted a $50 million increase in K-12 funding.

The Senate’s final version of the budget also dropped a proposed cut that would have eliminated subsidized child care for more than 3,000 children. Social services have grown into one of the largest parts of our budget. We need to find ways to reduce spending in this area, or we’re going to continue having budget problems. Subsi­dized child care, however, is one of the few programs that help low-income families rise out of poverty, instead of keeping them dependent on state aid. It allows parents to work, to move up, and, hopefully, become self-sufficient without assis­tance from the state.

The budget the Senate passed, however, is in no way final. There will likely be a number of changes to this budget as it continues to move through the legislative pro­cess. The budget bills now go back to the House for approval. If they don’t agree with our changes, a conference committee will be called to reach a compromise on the differences between the two versions. The budget that comes out of those negotiations will then have to be approved by the House and Senate before going to the gover­nor. We have until May 11 to finalize the state’s spending plan. There’s still a lot of work ahead, but within the next three weeks, Missouri will have a balanced budget.