House-Senate budget talks at stand still
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House-Senate budget talks at stand still

Date: May 3, 2012
By: Jordan Shapiro
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Formal negotiations between the House and Senate over the state's $24 billion budget have become unusually tense.

One of the issues between the two chambers has been a disagreement on how to fund veteran's homes.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he blames Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, for the gridlock.   

He said Mayer was "playing games" with the budget and accused him of playing chicken with the lives of veteran's and kids.

Mayer responded to Silvey's criticism and referred to him as the "junior budgeter in the House" and said he canceled scheduled meetings between negotiators.

The House passed their veteran's plan Wednesday which shifts casino revenue away from early childhood programs to the veteran's home. The House replenished the early childhood funds with money from a national settlement against tobacco companies.

The Senate has yet to take up the House position, but has crafted their own.

A draft proposal by the Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, keeps the House plan, but adds language eliminating professional training programs for women.

The Senate plan bans the activity of the Sue Shear Institute and prohibits the use of a rating system for preschools. Both issues have been pushed by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.

The Sue Shear Institute is based at the University of Missouri and engages in professional development and training for women.

While Mayer has not brought the House veteran's plan up for a vote, he said he has concerns about Crowell's plan.  

"The whole tone of it leaves me with a lot of consternation," Mayer said.

The proposal would ban public and private institutions from engaging in training women leaders.

Democrats have also balked at the Sue Shear language and threatened to block the bill if it remains. Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said she would launch a filibuster if it came up for a vote.

Silvey said the veteran's home issue has stalled the budget talks.

"Without a legislative fix we cannot go much further in this budget," Silvey said.

There are currently 1,700 Missouri veterans on the waiting list to get in a state home. The veteran's trust fund had as much as $80 million in 1999, but declining state revenues have depleted it to $17 million.

Funding for veteran's homes is not the only divide between the two chambers.

Debates over whether to cut funding for a blind health care program and whether to raise wages for some state employees are among some of the top issues before the budget conference committee.

The House and Senate also remain divided on the passage of a $70 million tax amnesty program, which the House accounted for in their budget proposal, while the Senate did not. The program provides a grace period for delinquent taxpayers to pay up without penalty.

Legislators have until May 11 to deliver a budget proposal to the governor.