Fulfilling our Constitutional Duty: Passing a Balanced Budget
The Missouri Constitution requires the members of the Missouri General Assembly to truly agree and finally pass a balanced budget that provides funding for the state’s agencies and departments. Thirteen budget bills make up the state’s $28 billion spending plan for the 2019 fiscal year. Our budget represents the priorities of our state; it provides record funding for education and allocates additional resources for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens while wisely spending your hard-earned tax dollars to provide state services.
Providing students with a quality, public school education is a priority of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. We all want to see our schools succeed, and I am proud to say the budget passed by my colleagues provides record funding for our state’s public schools. By providing an additional $98 million to the state’s education Foundation Formula, my colleagues and I voted to fully fund the formula for the second year in a row. In addition, our budget provides an additional $10 million in school transportation funding for our state’s public schools. In rural school districts, similar to the 10th Senatorial District, this additional funding is vital to ensure children safely make it to and from school. Providing the necessary funding for our schools to succeed is a priority of every member of the Missouri General Assembly. A quality education not only provides Missouri’s children with the foundation they need to succeed, but it plays a major role in ensuring our communities prosper and 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, potentially crippling their ability to educate and develop our state’s workforce. However, budget leaders from the Missouri House of Representatives and the Senate reversed the governor’s cut and provided the necessary core funding to our state’s community colleges and four-year institutions. In addition, the state’s 2019 budget increases funding for one of our state’s most important scholarship programs— the A+ Scholarship Program. Under the state’s spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, the A+ Scholarship Program will receive an additional $3.5 million in funding. I believe this program plays an important role in ensuring our state’s best and brightest have the necessary financial assistance in order to continue their education and set themselves up for future success in the workforce.
In addition, the state’s 2019 fiscal year budget includes 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 famers and biodiesel plant operators who qualified to receive grants through the fund. Through this appropriation, we will have fully funded the grant program’s remaining payments. I believe this funding decision sends a strong message to our state’s farmers; biodiesel production is an important part of our state’s No. 1 industry — agriculture. The approved budget also allocates $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.
Finally, our approved spending plan calls for a pay raise for state employees. Currently, our state employees are among the lowest paid state workers in the country. While I wish we could do more for those who serve our state, I was happy to see the General Assembly vote to provide a pay raise to state employees. In addition, the approved budget for 2019 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 dedication to serving the citizens of the Show-Me State.
The budget passed by my colleagues represents our state’s priorities. By providing record funding to our state’s public schools and allocating increased state support to Missouri’s public colleges and universities, I believe we are sending a strong message that our state values education and is willing to do everything possible to prepare our students to succeed once they leave the classroom. I commend my colleagues, in both chambers, for their hard work and I believe the state’s 2019 operating budget represents a spending plan that will benefit all Missourians.
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.