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Budget finalized day before deadline

The budget dominated our days and nights and early mornings in the Senate this week, as we worked towards passing the state’s spending plan under the constitutional deadline. On Monday, the Senate became locked in a filibuster that lasted until 3:30 a.m. stemming from a few items in the budget. Negotiations threatened to breakdown completely, but we continued to work towards a compromise. We stepped back, examined where we could meet in the middle and were able to move forward.

Part of the budget deal hinged on creating a dedicated funding source for Missouri veterans’ homes. These facilities are an important part of providing care to our military veterans, who sacrifice much to protect our country. In previous years, the trust fund for these homes had been dipped into to plug budgetary shortfalls. We addressed this issue by passing House Bill 1731, which creates a steady stream of funding for veterans homes by earmarking a portion of the state’s casino fees. Early childhood programs that had benefited from the casino fees will now be funded through the state’s share of a nationwide tobacco settlement.

We also passed an amendment to House Bill 1731 that will establish a joint committee to examine the higher education founding formula. This was in response to a compromise made during the budget debate involving a proposed $2 million increase to Southeast Missouri University’s funding. After some lawmakers objected, the budget committee agreed to a $3 million increase distributed to seven universities. But, the move highlighted a disparity in how we fund colleges and universities. The joint committee will look at how we can fix that issue.

The Legislature approved the state budget on Thursday, a day before the constitutional deadline. Included in the spending plan is a two percent pay raise for state employees who make up to $70,000 annually. I fought hard on the Senate floor to prevent the pay raise from being removed from the budget, and was an outspoken supporter of the wage increase throughout the process. Our state employees haven’t had a raise in years. Meanwhile, the costs of goods and services have risen exponentially. State employees are essentially making less than they did a few years ago. They deserve this pay raise, which will benefit around 97 percent of state employees.

We increased the K-12 foundation funding formula by $5 million, an accomplishment worth noting, as many states have been forced to make sharp cuts to education in recent years. The governor’s original budget proposal also called for reductions to higher education funding, but we were able to restore that money.

With the budget passed, the Senate will continue working on legislation. Much of next week will be taken up with debate on the floor and conference committees, as the House and Senate work together to compromise on bills amended by both bodies. There’s only one week left in the legislative session.

This report is filed at the end of each week during the legislative session. This report was filed at the close of business last week.

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