Legislative Column for the Week of April 6, 2015

Senator Schatz and Sen. Romine (from neighboring District 3) discuss the budget during session.

JEFFERSON CITY - Under the Missouri Constitution, the General Assembly is required to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year and send it to the governor’s desk for approval prior to 6 p.m., on the Friday of the first full week in May. This year, that date is May 8.

After a late night and very early morning of debate on Tuesday, April 7, and Wednesday, April 8 (session ended at 4 a.m. on Wednesday once we finished the Senate’s version of the budget), the General Assembly is much closer to finalizing a budget than we typically are at this time.

Early in the session both chambers agreed to move as quickly and diligently on the budget process as possible, that way any items in the budget that are vetoed by the governor can be taken before the body before we adjourn in May, rather than having to wait to restore vital funding until the annual veto session in September. I believe this is a great approach. In recent years, the governor has unilaterally withheld many items in the budget and used his line-item veto power frequently. Because the Legislature is acting early, we will have the opportunity to review the governor’s line-item budget vetoes before session ends on May 15, 2015.

Crafting the state budget is a challenging process. Typically more than 1,000 line items make up the annual budget. Since Missouri is bound by a constitutional amendment to not deficit spend, it takes discussion and tough decisions to come up with a balanced budget.

Beginning with the governor’s State of the State address in January, the House Budget Committee drafts the bills that become the first version of the General Assembly’s budget. While the other chamber prepares the budget bills, the Senate Appropriations Committee hears testimony from representatives of each of Missouri’s state departments regarding the financial need of each department. We then consider this testimony when drafting the Senate’s version of the state spending plan.

At this point, we will send the amended bills back to the House, where they will move to a joint conference committee to hammer out details. The conference committees are comprised of members of both the Senate and House.
My colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee, as well as my fellow legislators, will put in the hours necessary to draft a fiscally responsible and balanced budget, long before the constitutional deadline of May 8.

Thank you for reading this weekly column. You can contact my office at (573) 751-3678 if you have any questions.