Advocates for increasing rates for home care workers fell just two votes short of adding $308 million to the Missouri budget on Tuesday as more than two dozen Republicans joined Democrats on a proposal intended to help dire staffing needs of local agencies.
The amendment from Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Manchester, would have increased rates for direct care providers to allow an 8.7% pay raise for employees who help people with disabilities in their daily lives.
“We have 200 people in hospitals where families don’t go pick up their kids because they can no longer care for them at home,” Lavender said.
On the 71-73 vote, the unified Democratic majority was joined by 28 Republicans willing to buck House Budget Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, who did not lose a vote on any amendment he opposed during Tuesday’s eight-hour budget debate.
Many of the providers who would receive increased rates were given a boost in state payments last year, Smith told the House. He also opposed using funds that would have to be replaced with general revenue in future years to maintain the higher rates.
“We should do as much as we can as we go along but we can’t do it all at one time,” he said.
For most of the day, the results on any amendment were clear in advance. House Democratic Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield said she didn’t expect Lavender to prevail and if she didn’t, Republicans should feel ashamed of denying help to vulnerable Missourians.
“I know how this vote is going to go,” Quade said. “We always do. I guess part of my job is to make you feel guilty about it.”
Quade, however, couldn’t deliver her entire caucus. While no Democrat voted against Lavender’s amendment, there were seven absent when the roll was called.
Lavender tried for the 8.7% increase – the same raise lawmakers gave to state workers – after she was defeated in the Budget Committee when she pushed to fund the entire rate increase called for in a study completed late last year at a cost of $910 million.
The vote was the closest of the day on any amendment. When House members finished work on the budget, approximately $28 million had been added to the $45.6 billion spending plan approved last week by the Budget Committee.
When the eight-hour debate ended, the House gave first-round approval to 13 budget bills spending $2.1 billion less than requested by Gov. Mike Parson in January. They also approved a supplemental bill that spends $2 billion to fund state programs through June 30.
The spending bills use $1.5 billion less general revenue than Parson’s plan. The biggest cuts were to Parson’s proposal to use $859 million to widen portions of Interstate 70, $250 million to create a savings account dedicated to education needs and reductions in money the state expects to spend as increases to the Medicaid program.
Two of Parson’s priorities, which were not fully funded in the committee plan, will be in the version that goes to the Senate. There is $78 million for rate increases for child care providers and about $56 million to support pre-kindergarten programs for children in families that qualify for free or reduced-price school meals.
Other significant spending items in the budget include:
- $233 million to fully fund school transportation programs for the second consecutive year. Until it was fully funded in the current budget, it had been 30 years since school districts received the legally mandated money.
- $70.8 million to fund increases in aid to state colleges and universities. Community colleges will receive a 7% increase. Four-year universities will receive a 5% boost, with 2% – $16.8 million – put into a performance-funding system that has yet to be finalized.
- Funding to provide raises for the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Capitol police, with 11.3% increases added to the 8.7% raises provided in March.
Along with spending decisions, House Republicans used the budget to make a statement on cultural issues.
Under amendments proposed by Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, no agency or higher education institution would be allowed to spend state funds on “staffing, vendors, consultants, or programs associated with “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion,” or “Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging.”
Richey defended the amendment as a way to combat “critical race theory” and “neo-Marxist thought.”
“You can’t promote treating one group of people better than others. You can’t promote the idea of collective guilt.”
Democrats called the amendments racist.
“I can’t imagine what it is like to have ancestors that treated my ancestors so badly you don’t even want to talk about it,” said Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson.
When Lavender made her plea for votes to support people with disabilities, she argued that the state has ample funds for future years to replace the one-time source she was tapping. As of the end of February, there was about $5 billion in surplus money in the general revenue fund and approximately $2 billion in other funds that could be spent like general revenue.
If the budget written in the House is unchanged when it reaches Parson’s desk in May – an unlikely scenario – it would add about $1.5 billion to the general revenue surplus of $3.8 billion projected in Parson’s budget.
That budget anticipates that revenue growth – double digits over the past 30 months – will slow to a trickle. That slowdown hasn’t shown up yet, and the 12.8% growth through Monday would, if it continues to June 30, add another $1.5 billion to the surplus.
As the debate opened, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, complained that House rules lock that money away but that the purse will be wide open when the Senate considers spending. Every time an amendment to spend general revenue is offered in the House, it must be balanced by a proposal to cut spending elsewhere.
“Because of the balancing rule, House members will have no ability to say where those $5 to $7 billion is going to be spent,” Merideth said.
The House overwhelmingly defeated Merideth’s motion to suspend the rule.
An effort to impose a moratorium on executions in Missouri’s prisons was another amendment that was closer than expected. Rep. Tony Lovasco, R-O’Fallon, proposed an amendment to block any spending to carry out a death penalty.
It failed on a 63-87 vote, with 18 Republicans joining Lovasco.
“There is nothing more big government than allowing the state to kill its own people,” Lovasco said as he asked colleagues for votes. “There is nothing more pro-life than opposing the death penalty.”
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