Digging into the Budget
As I prepare this report, the Missouri General Assembly will soon vote on a Fiscal Year 2022 operating budget that totals more than $34 billion. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ve truly appreciated the opportunity to participate in the budget process and dig into the numbers in great detail.
The state budget is divided across the various departments of government, service on debt, maintenance and capital improvement projects. Traditionally, revenue streams for these programs are nearly equal from general revenue (taxes), federal dollars and “other sources,” such as wildlife tags, gas taxes and fees paid by health care providers. Reliance on federal funding has increased significantly with the influx of money from COVID-19 programs enacted by Congress.
The Department of Social Services, the primary administrator of Missouri’s Medicaid program, receives $10.7 billion. This is without the Legislature appropriating money to expand the Medicaid program. When you add in the budgets for the departments of Mental Health and Health and Senior Services, nearly 45 cents out of every dollar the state spends goes toward health care and other services for children, seniors and economically vulnerable members of the state’s population.
Among other big ticket items in the budget, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will receive about $7.5 billion in 2022, fully funding the school foundation formula. As part of that budget, rural school districts will receive additional money for school transportation programs. Colleges and universities also receive additional funding in the $1.4 billion budget for the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development.
During budget negotiations, I was asked to serve on the House/Senate conference committee that finalized appropriations for the Department of Corrections. The $800 million budget we approved this week provides increased funding to reimburse county jails for housing state prisoners and continues recruitment incentives for corrections officers, including those who work at prisons in Licking and Fordland.
At $34 billion, Missouri’s budget is definitely large, but I can assure you, we examine every program and trim the excess when and where we can. Still, it all adds up to real money. Each of us in the Legislature is aware that it’s your money we’re spending. We vow to do that wisely, while still providing for roads, schools, public safety and the services Missourians rely on.
In other legislative activity this week, I was able to present the “Rewarding Workplace Readiness in Institutions of Higher Learning Act” to the Senate Education Committee. With just one week remaining in the 2021 legislative session, the odds of Senate Bill 585 getting passed this year are slim, but I wanted to put the idea out there and start a conversation about how we evaluate post-secondary institutions in Missouri. My proposal would link funding for colleges, universities and technical schools with their success placing graduates in high-paying jobs. Trade and technical schools have long promoted their programs based on the earnings success of graduates, and traditional colleges and universities are beginning to take notice. Currently, about 30 states around the nation fund their schools based on earnings-weighted performance measures. It’s a transformational shift in how we judge the effectiveness of educational institutions and I’d like to see Missouri consider this approach as a way of determining how our schools are doing. Again, this measure is unlikely to pass this year, but I hope the idea gains traction in future legislative sessions.
I continue to welcome visitors from the district. This week, a group of 7th and 8th grade students from Skyline School in Douglas County toured Capitol and was able to see their state government in action.
It is my honor to serve the residents of Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster and Wright counties in the Missouri Senate, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from friends and family back home. If I can help you in any way, please call my Capitol Office at 573-751-1882, or my District Office at 417-596-9011. You can also visit my webpage at www.senate.mo.gov/mem33, on Facebook: @SenatorKarlaEslinger, or follow me on Twitter: @seneslingermo.