Approving the Budget
With a constitutional deadline looming, the General Assembly today finalized Missouri’s $34 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year 2022. As a member of the Senate Appropriations committee, I was privileged to help shape the Senate’s budget recommendations throughout the session. During the final week of budget negotiations, I was appointed to serve on the House/Senate conference committees that finalized the budget bills for the departments of Public Safety and Social Services.
Throughout the budget process I’ve worked hard to champion local needs and direct state funding to worthwhile projects throughout the 34th Senatorial District. One example is a $650,000 appropriation to renovate a dormitory at Missouri Western State University. In addition to providing a much-needed upgrade in student housing, the promise of improvements were a factor when the Kansas City Chiefs decided to continue holding training camps at the St. Joseph campus. I was also able to secure a $1.1 million appropriation for St. Joseph’s Hillyard Technical Center. This money will be used to replace outdated equipment and to provide new capabilities for the school.
The $7.5 billion dollar budget for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education fully funds the foundation formula used to distribute resources to local K-12 classrooms throughout Missouri. This year’s education department budget also increases funding for school transportation programs by $20 million. The Legislature has fulfilled its obligation to our kids each year of my Senate service, and I’ve been proud to cast my vote for the education budget every year.
Among the issues raised as the budget was finalized was the question of whether Missourians would be required to repay the state for COVID-19 unemployment benefits they may have received in error. I was proud to cosponsor Senate Bill 481, which blocks the Division of Employment Security from attempting to recover these payments. This measure will provide peace of mind to Missourians who accepted unemployment benefits from the state in good faith, without ever suspecting they might be asked to give the money back. It’s the right thing to do, and I’m glad my colleagues on both sides of the aisle agreed.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was pleased the Legislature has budgeted more than $2.8 million to hire additional attorneys for Missouri’s public defender system. This program is incredibly underfunded now, resulting in a persistent backlog of cases in our criminal courts. We have an obligation to our citizens to provide an efficient judicial system that allows victims to seek justice without imposing unreasonable delays on defendants. The increased funding for our public defenders is long overdue. This new funding will ensure the hiring of additional public defenders and begin to remedy the funding crisis that has plagued the system for far too long.
Now that the budget is on its way to the governor, each of us in the General Assembly will spend the one remaining week of the 2021 session attempting to get priority legislation across the finish line, either as intact bills or as amendments to other measures. Differences between House and Senate bills will need to be resolved and compromises will be made in the pursuit of bill passage. The last week is always full of drama, and I expect an exciting few days ahead as we race toward adjournment on May 14. I’ll be sure to update you these activities once the dust settles.
It is my great honor to represent the citizens of Platte and Buchanan counties in the Missouri Senate. Please contact my office at (573) 751-2183, or visit www.senate.mo.gov/mem34.