Representative Karla Eslinger

Hello Friends and Family, 

I am thrilled to report that our main goal of crafting a fiscally responsible budget was accomplished.  Upon adjournment Friday, members of the House and Senate gave final approval to a balanced state spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1st. As mentioned in earlier reports, the House and Senate had each approved versions of the budget since returning to the Capitol on April 27th, but were able to conference to reach agreement on an operating budget that was approved by the constitutional deadline of Friday, May 8th.

We had returned to the Capitol with the knowledge that the state’s economy was declining because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data released Thursday shows April revenue collections for the current year have dropped more than 54 percent compared to April of last year. While much of this is due to the tax filing deadline being moved from April to July, the state overall has seen a revenue drop of 6 percent for the current year compared to the same time in 2019. The state budget director compared the state’s revenue decline to a faucet being turned off.

Because of the drop in revenues, we had to look for substantial cost savings to bring the spending plan into balance. Both chambers worked together to determine that approximately $700 million would need to be trimmed from the proposed budget offered by the Governor in January. The House and Senate opted to take the bulk of those savings by eliminating new decision items that had been recommended before the pandemic. This approach allowed lawmakers to balance the budget with a minimal impact to existing state services.

The final version of the FY 2021 state spending plan keeps funding for K-12 education almost entirely preserved at its current funding level in the Fiscal Year 2020 budget. Colleges and universities also have a path to avoid spending cuts if federal funds related to the pandemic are triggered as expected this summer. Budget negotiators also prioritized additional dollars to ensure stable funding for the state’s community colleges.

The budget approved by both chambers also provides additional spending flexibility for the governor if federal funds become available. The plan authorizes up to an additional $2 billion in spending authority for K-12 public schools should additional federal funds become available to support education. Additionally, it authorizes another $54.6 million in funding from the federal CARES Act for emergency education relief funds. The funds can be used for K-12 education, higher education, or any combination of the two the governor may choose. The budget also includes another $304 million in spending authority for the governor for public two-year and four-year institutions should federal funds become available to support them. Please contact me if you would like additional information regarding the budget.  

In total, the General Assembly has appropriated $35,291,459,657:

  • $10,011,743,473 in General Revenue
  • $14,757,315,949 in Federal Funds
  • $10,522,400,235 in Other Funds
  • The appropriations bills that make up the FY 2021 state operating budget now move to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

In addition, we worked on a few legislative items.  One exempts stimulus payments from state income tax (SB 676). The sponsor said, “That’s $50 to every constituent in your district that received a stimulus payment.”  We also sent legislation to the Senate this week that would ensure local governments and entities receiving state money are open and transparent about spending taxpayer dollars. 

Known as the Cost Openness and Spending Transparency (COST) Act, the bill provides additional transparency for federal CARES Act funding the state is appropriating to local governments.  Basically, the “Missouri Local Government CARES Act Expenditure Database” is to be maintained by the Office of Administration. The database must include information about expenditures made by a given municipality or county with funds appropriated as a result of the CARES Act and the vendors to whom payments were made. The database must be accessible by the public without charge and have multiple ways to search and filter the information. 

As approximately $2.4 billion is being dispersed to local governments, it is important to put into place a “one-stop-shop” to see who is spending this money, for what purpose, when the funds are spent and to whom the funds are going.  The legislation is now under consideration in the Missouri Senate. It has until May 15th to receive final approval from both bodies.