Legislative Column for Dec. 4, 2020
Anyone who has ever crafted a household budget or written a business plan knows how difficult it is to anticipate unexpected expenses. This is especially true during times of upheaval, when nothing goes as planned. Imagine then, how difficult budgeting must be for a state government. It’s hard enough to plan for the normal ebbs and flows of tax revenue, but when a worldwide pandemic upsets the entire economy and presents unanticipated expenses, accurate projections are nearly impossible.
When the Legislature passed the Fiscal Year 2021 budget in May, the coronavirus had already taken hold in the United States. Even as we voted on the budget, we knew we would have to revisit the numbers later in the year. A few weeks ago, the governor called an extra legislative session for the explicit purpose of passing a supplemental budget for the current year. At stake was more than a billion dollars of federal money, most of it funded through the CARES Act, which the governor didn’t have authority to spend without approval from the Legislature. Much of this money had to be allocated before Jan. 1 or it would disappear.
This week, the Senate approved House Bill 14, a $1.27 billion supplemental budget, which now goes to the governor for his signature. Nearly all the money ̶ $1.17 billion ̶ comes from federal programs. About $100 million is paid for with fees collected from pharmacies and other health care providers. State revenue accounts for less than $12 million, or about a penny of every dollar the governor now can spend on COVID-19 efforts.
Some of the spending reflects new federal guidance and monies that were not available when the 2021 budget was approved in May. In other cases, CARES Act money was moved around to adjust for needs not fully understood during the early stages of the pandemic. The largest sum, about $750 million from the State Emergency Management Federal Stimulus Fund, can be directed by the governor as he responds to COVID-19. Other spending is more specific. There’s $75 million for school meal programs, $140 million for COVI9-19 testing and contact tracing and $34 million for job training. When possible, the budget takes advantage of flexibility in the CARES Act so important state programs remain solvent during a time of economic uncertainty. For example, almost $100 million will go to needy families who might not receive child support payments were it not for the federal money. Another $2 million is earmarked for a pretrial witness protection fund approved in an earlier extra session.
The passage of the supplemental budget concludes our work for the 100th General Assembly. Lawmakers now look toward the start of a new legislative session on Jan. 6, 2021. There will be 11 new faces in the 34-member Senate. One of those new senators will represent the eight counties I have proudly served for the past eight years. Over the next few weeks, departing legislators will pack up their personal items and the bi-annual shuffle of office spaces will begin. When the new session begins in January, residents of the 33rd District can find their state senator and her staff located on the second floor of the Capitol, in room 219.
Visitors to Jefferson City will be treated to a newly refreshed Capitol exterior. All the scaffolding and plastic sheeting, which obscured the Capitol and its dome for more than two years, is gone. A complete restoration of the building’s limestone marble stonework is complete. Persistent water leakage, which threatened the 103-year-old Capitol’s foundation and caused damage to the interior, has been addressed. The People’s Capitol looks fantastic and I hope everyone gets a chance to come see it in the future.
On Dec. 1, pre-filing of bills for the First Regular Session of the 101st General Assembly began. So far, more than 250 legislative proposals have been put forward. If history is any guide, most of these won’t make it far through the legislative process. But the pre-filed bills offer a glimpse of the wide variety of topics legislators will address next year. For the first time in two decades, I will be watching the deliberations from afar, as my time in the Legislature is done. Your new state senator will want to hear from you as she begins her new duties. I encourage you to stay informed and to reach out to her with your thoughts and guidance. I also ask you to pray for her. She’ll need your support.
It is been my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator until the new General Assembly is sworn in. If there’s anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at (573) 751-1882.