Legislative Column for the Week of April 30, 2015

Where Your Tax Dollars Go

JEFFERSON CITY - The state budget is the one item that the Missouri Constitution requires the Legislature to complete. Unlike Congress, the Missouri General Assembly must balance the budget and pass it in a timely manner. The governor then has the ability to line-item veto and withhold funds in order to ensure the state has a balanced budget and no deficit.

All state expenditures, including federal funds.

The state budget is the largest legislative undertaking every session. Budget bills originate in the House and are then passed on to the Senate after full House approval. The Senate Appropriations Committee amends the budget bills and passes them back to the House after full Senate approval. Then both chambers appoint conference committees to hammer out the differences. That version of the budget is typically the final version. The budget conference committees worked late into the night on Wednesday and both chambers passed the final version of the budget last Thursday.

The Legislature took the unusual step of finishing the budget before our constitutionally-mandated deadline in order to require the governor to act quickly on line-item vetoes so that the Legislature can review the vetoes before the end of session. Our hope is to bring more accountability from the executive branch into the process.

The state budget is $26.1 billion in total and much of that money is federal funds earmarked for things like highways and welfare spending. After many difficult years of revenue loss during the recession, the budget picture has finally improved somewhat and the Legislature is working to steer much of that growth in revenue towards local schools. This year saw a major debate between spending on welfare versus spending on education and I am proud that the General Assembly took a stand to cap welfare spending while increasing funding for our schools.

State of Missouri general revenue expenditures that the state Legislature fully controls.

Inflation in the Medicaid budget has eaten up larger and larger portions of the state budget in recent years and it has become unsustainable. This drag on the state budget truly comes at the expense of education because education and Medicaid are the two largest areas of general revenue that the state Legislature can really direct.

Many other state funds are constitutionally or statutorily directed to specific purposes (like the conservation sales tax or gas tax for MoDOT for instance). The Legislature took a stand by directing less revenue to Medicaid than was requested – we did not make cuts to services that would remove needy individuals from the program, we simply limited its growth so that we could steer state dollars towards education.

This stance was difficult for some in the Legislature to accept but there has to be some kind of cap on welfare expansion or our state will simply become a giant insurance company with poor schools. I voted in favor of the budget because I believe it sets Missouri on the right path for future success.
For more detailed information on the line items in the state budget, please contact our office.

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