Crafting a Budget that Reflects Our Priorities
During our time in the State Capitol, my colleagues and I are required by the Missouri Constitution to truly agree and finally pass a balanced state budget. The state’s operating budget is made up of 13 legislative proposals that fund each state agency and department. This proposal truly represents our priorities; it provides record funding for our state’s public schools and it provides vital aid to some of our state’s most vulnerable populations while wisely spending your hard-earned tax dollars to provide valuable state services. I am proud of the work done by my colleagues serving on the Appropriations Committee in drafting and producing the Senate’s version of the state’s 2019 fiscal year operating budget.
One of the highlights of the Senate’s proposed budget is the record amount of funding it provides for our state’s elementary and secondary schools. The Senate’s proposed spending plan provides an additional $25 million for school transportation costs. In rural school districts, which make up the overwhelming majority of the 10th Senatorial District, state school transportation funding is vital to ensuring children safely make it to school. Properly funding our state’s schools is a priority of every member of the Missouri Senate. A quality education not only provides children with the foundation they need to succeed, but it plays a major role in ensuring our communities prosper as well as the overall success of our state.
When the governor unveiled his spending plan for the state, he proposed a $68 million cut to our state’s public colleges and universities. This proposed cut would have been devastating to our state’s higher education institutions, and it would have resulted in higher tuition rates. However, budget leaders from the Missouri House of Representatives and the Senate reversed the governor’s cut and provided the needed core funding to our state’s community colleges and four-year institutions. In addition, the Senate’s proposed budget increases funding for two of our state’s most important scholarship programs. Our budget includes a $3.5 million increase to the A+ Schools Program, and it includes a $1 million increase to the Bright Flight Scholarship Program. Both of these programs play an important role in ensuring our state’s best and brightest receive the necessary financial assistance in order to continue their education.
In addition, the Senate’s proposed budget provides a $4 million payment to the Missouri Qualified Biodiesel Producer Incentive Fund. The grant program administered by the fund ended 10 years ago; however, Missouri still owes millions to farmers and biodiesel plant operators who qualified to receive grants through the fund. The Senate’s proposed budget fully funds the remaining payments. The Senate’s spending plan also allocates an additional $3 million to the attorney general’s office for the purpose for collecting, testing and tracking sexual assault kits. Our state has a transparency problem when it comes to processing sexual assault kits. I believe these funds are extremely important to ensuring these kits are properly tested and tracked. The evidence contained in these kits is vital in prosecuting predators who commit these heinous acts and bringing closure to victims and their families.
Finally, our state spending plan includes a pay raise for state employees. Currently, Missouri state employees are among the lowest paid state employees in the country. While I wish we could do more for those who serve our state, I was happy to see my colleagues vote to provide a pay raise to state employees. In addition, the Senate’s budget includes a $61.2 million increase in funding for the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan. Without this additional funding, state employees could have potentially seen drastic premium increases next year in their health insurance. We were also able to add an additional $13.4 million to MOSERS, the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System. I believe these spending increases send an important message to our state employees; we value their hard work and we will continue to have their best interests in mind when it comes to our state’s budget.
Our proposed budget represents our priorities. By providing record funding to our state’s elementary and secondary schools and increased support to our public higher education institutions, I believe this budget shows the value our state places on education. As lawmakers, we are doing everything we can to provide our students with the resources they need to succeed. I commend my colleagues for their hard work on the budget, and I look forward to working with the House to finalize the state’s spending plan for the upcoming year. I will send out another report highlighting various aspects of the budget when both chambers pass the final version.
As always, it is an honor and privilege to be your State Senator and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.