JEFFERSON CITY - The House Budget Committee ended debate in record time on Missouri's 2012 budget after a mark-up session Tuesday.
This year's mark-up lasted only one hour compared to last year's which took nearly three days. Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, credited the hard work of the Budget chairman, Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and the fair process this year as the reasons the mark-up was historically brief.
"He was very professional, efficient, effective, bi-partisan and worked with people," Kelly said.
Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, agreed with Kelly on Silvey's performance but said she wished the process was less "orchestrated" by House leadership.
The 13 House appropriations bills were all passed with only 1 no vote. Kelly said this has never happened before while he has been in office.
Missouri's amended $23.2 billion budget represents an overall 2.5 percent decrease from last year's budget and includes a 7 percent reduction in funds for higher education. Last year over 300 amendments were offered, but this year only 18 were brought before the committee.
The ranking member on the budget committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said "there simply is no more money" to make amendments.
Kelly offered an amendment which moved funds from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MoHELA) to General Revenue. Earlier in the budget process the committee used $12 million from MoHELA to offset a reduction in the Access Missouri Scholarship Program. Today, Kelly motioned that the money for Access Missouri instead come from General Revenue which would provide more stability for the program from year to year since the money from MoHELA will not be available every year.
Kelly's amendment ultimately passed, but he said this issue will be contested in the Senate.
Lampe offered an amendment to add $8.9 million to the elementary and secondary education transportation fund. In order to fund her increase, Lampe proposed to eliminate Missouri's ethanol subsidy program. She said education transportation is underfunded by $55 million and that is "devastating" to rural school districts.
"I think our kids are worth it," Lampe said.
After opposition from the committee, Lampe withdrew her amendment before a vote.
Kelly also presented an amendment which would reduce Missouri House of Representatives mileage.
"We need to show our commitment to what we are asking everyone else to do," Kelly said.
The amendment was passed despite some opposition from committee members.
Some lawmakers said they were disappointed in the budget situation this year and the lack of available money.
Lampe said the budget cuts will continue unless the Republican majority is willing to have a conversation about increasing state revenue.
"There is no political will to do that ... we can't plug the leak anymore ... it's affecting our kids," Lampe said.
Lampe said instead of raising revenue, House Republicans have decreased it. She said the elimination of the corporate franchise tax passed by the House would cost the state $85 million in revenue.
Although the House committee has finalized the budget their continues to be debate in the Senate about the use of federal funds. Missouri has received $189 million from the federal government that must be spent by next year and only on elementary and secondary education. Some Republicans in the Senate have pledged to block that money along with other funds from the federal government.
"You have the federal government stealing from this generation and generations to come by spending money they don't have," Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said in a radio interview on using federal money for unemployment benefits, which he blocked in the Senate.
Lampe, a former teacher, disagrees with their logic.
"Why would we turn down money for our kids? It's just insane," she said.
Nasheed also said many of the budget amendments passed in the House will face opposition in the Senate.
"It is a whole different monster over there," she said.
The budget will be sent to the House floor when the legislators return from their spring break on March 28.