Senator Holly Thompson Rehder's Legislative Column for April 21, 2023
Friday, April 21, 2023
The Budget, Line by Line
What does “government” mean to you? If you think roads and bridges, you’re right. If schools come to mind, you’re right about that, too. Medicaid and health care for seniors and the disabled? Yes, that’s a huge part of what government does. Incarcerating offenders is a function of government, but maintaining state parks and providing places for Missourians to hunt and fish is too. State government helps attract businesses to the state and also provides unemployment benefits for those who can’t find a job. In fact, there are more than a dozen major departments of Missouri’s government, each with its own duties and responsibilities. All told, nearly 54,000 Missourians are employed by the State of Missouri.
This week, I participated in reviewing the budgets for all of this and more. The Senate Appropriations Committee looked at 14 budget bills passed by the House of Representatives, considering every category of state spending. It was a daunting task, but one that’s necessary for the Legislature to satisfy its sole constitutional obligation of passing a balanced state budget.
As the committee worked through the budget bills we made determinations to either approve the House’s numbers or offer our own. Where we felt the House was spending too much, we cut back. If we felt the House short-changed an important program, we increased the appropriation. Sometimes we deferred to the governor’s original request, and other times we expressed our own ideas. None of this is set in stone yet. The full Senate will have to vote on the committee’s recommendations, and then differences between our budget and the bills passed by the House will need to be resolved. Once the two chambers agree on identical budget bills, we’ll vote one last time and send the budget to the governor for his approval.
There were a lot of areas of agreement between the House and Senate budgets. Both chambers agree we should fully fund the foundation formula for K-12 classrooms and pay the state’s share of school transportation costs. Both budgets increase funding for colleges and universities. Both fund Mo HealthNet coverage for pregnant women, senior citizens and the disabled. In fact, the two chambers agree on more lines of the budget than they disagree. There are some differences, however.
One of the big differences relates to highway funding. The House followed the governor’s recommendation for improving Interstate 70 in just three areas of the state. The Senate wants to widen the entire stretch of I-70 from Kansas City to Wentzville, adding about $2 billion to the governor’s request. As I discussed in a previous column, the House stripped state funding for public libraries out of the budget. The Senate put the money back in. The Senate voted to fund construction of a new psychiatric hospital that wasn’t in the House budget. We also restored increased pay for the people who care for Missourians with developmental disabilities. There are a number of other differences between the House and Senate appropriations that we’ll need to sort out before the budget goes to the governor’s desk on May 5.
As the Appropriations Committee reviewed the budget, members of the committee were given the opportunity to advocate for issues important to them. I asked for and received a $2 million appropriation for “Engaging Patients in Coordinated Care (EPICC).” This is a behavioral health network program that uses peer support to address opioid use disorders, starting in our ERs. Missouri has had an incredibly successful pilot program in central, eastern, southwest and western portions of the state. This funding would allow this important program to come to the southeast and northwestern parts of Missouri as well. I also sought funding for a number of facilities within the 27th Senatorial District. I’ll update you on these appropriations once the budget is finalized. I don’t want to get folks excited about additional help and then it not make it across the finish line!
In other legislative activity this week, I presented two bills to committees. The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on Senate Bill 480, a measure that will save lives by allowing access to materials used to test for the presence of fentanyl. The committee issued a “do pass” recommendation, which cleared the way for this measure to be included as an amendment to Senate Bill 189, a comprehensive crime bill passed by the Senate this week. Also this week, the House Committee on Children and Families held a hearing on Senate Bill 199, my bill related to adult high schools.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.