Missouri budget debate includes differences over how to fight coronavirus

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House Budget Committee met Sunday to work on approving an approximately $30 billion budget for the state. The committee passed a budget early Monday morning.

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage) said the approved budget included a governor’s amendment to the operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021, which will allow the state to spend approximately $13 million in federal funds to based on the amount Missouri is expected to receive. Smith said Governor Parson’s state of emergency declaration will allow giving the state access to $7 million in money already appropriated.

“I know the governor’s office has prioritized making sure that we have adequate tests in the state,” said Smith.

Governor Parson has also indicated a priority is making sure health care personnel have adequate personal protective equipment.

“Those are the two things we want to accomplish first,” Smith said.

Some committee Democrats argued the state should use budget reserve money to fight the virus.

State Rep. Deb Lavender (D-Kirkwood) believes the state should access its reserves to cover testing and medical costs for testing for those without insurance.

“We need to assure these people that it is okay for them to get tested from a financial point of view,” she said.

Lavender is also concerned about low-income students who rely on meals at schools that have canceled classes. She said the state could replace money spent from the reserves with the federal dollars it’s expected to receive to fight the virus.

Smith said the state should be cautious before using its reserves.

“We need to be careful not to deplete our resources where we may need to supplement core functions of government, like education, transportation, infrastructure, with some of those supplemental funds,” he said.

The budget plan approved by the committee will now go to the Missouri House. The House is expected to vote on the budget Wednesday with a final vote on Thursday. The Senate will take up the budget after it returns from spring break. That is scheduled to take place on March 30.

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