Missouri's Senate passes budget and ends stalemate
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Missouri's Senate passes budget and ends stalemate

Date: April 25, 2012
By: Jordan Shapiro
State Capitol Bureau
Links: The budget tables

JEFFERSON CITY -The Senate ended a two day gridlock and passed the state's $24 billion budget early Wednesday morning.

The Senate passed their budget, which includes level funding for K-12 and higher education and some cuts to social services programs. The Senate began debate Monday afternoon, but was unable to come to an agreement for two days. 

A group of nine Republican senators threatened the budget's passage and presented a list of demands to Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, before they would let the budget come to a vote. 

The demands included eliminating a state employee pay increase and a reduction in early childhood grant funds.

Schaefer said his budget was balanced, despite the employee pay raise and a loss of $70 million in expected revenue from a tax amnesty program that has languished in the General Assembly over the past year.

The group of Schaefer's fellow Republicans disagreed.

"I believe structurally the budget is not in balance," said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, who was one of the nine Republicans objecting to the budget.

The Senate's budget is $87 million lower than what the House passed and what Gov. Jay Nixon proposed. Major changes include eliminating $16 million in child care subsidies and $11 million in foster care programs.

The Republican caucus spent two days in closed-door negotiations as senators sought to alter the budget. Typically, the Senate rubber stamps the budget put forward by the Appropriations chairman.

"We have two caucuses. That is the problem," Schaefer said of his Republican Senate Majority.

Tuesday afternoon, Schaefer offered a substitute budget addressing some of the demands from the group of Republicans. The new plan, however, spends $11.6 million more general revenue than before. Many of the issues raised by the group were disputes they had with various state departments.  

" The State budget is not the place to take out every petulant and petty issues against a state agency or state employee," Schaefer said. 

The additions include $10 million to help build and maintain new veteran's homes, but kept the pay raise for state workers.

The pay increase was a major sticking point in the budget. Schaefer offered a plan to give a two percent raise to all employees making less than $45,000 a year. Schaefer's plan costs the state $32 million, but is lower than what the House passed and what the governor proposed.

The Senate narrowly rejected an attempt to remove it late Tuesday night. The plan would give raises to nearly 46,000 state workers.

Seven Democrats joined ten Republicans in keeping the proposed two percent increase for state workers.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, offered the amendment.

"My concern is that when you have a budget that has a several hundred million dollar shortfall and you have a new decision item and the pay plan will happen at the expense of other things," Dempsey said.

Schaefer opposed the effort to not raise the pay of state workers who last saw a raise in 2008.

"If you want to keep them working, you have to pay them," Schaefer said. 

Lembke offered an amendment to restore a cut to a health care program for the blind. The Senate budget plan requires people who are blind and who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid to pay a roughly $700 insurance premium and deductible for coverage. 

"I did not know the 2,800 blind people in Missouri were the reason we are in this budget crisis right now," said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau sarcastically.

Schaefer defended the program and said this is a way that no one loses services, but allows money to be spent elsewhere in the budget. The Senate accepted Lembke's amendment and restored the cut by a 18-16 vote.

Nixon, who had publically campaigned against the cuts, applauded the Senate's decision.

"I commend the Missouri Senate for adopting Sen. Jim Lembke's amendment to restore full funding for the state's health care program for needy, blind Missourians," Nixon said in a statement.

The budget now heads back to the House where they can either accept the Senate's changes or go to conference.

It must be sent to Nixon's desk by May 11.