JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri senators are prepared to call a special session if lawmakers do not approve next fiscal year’s budget by the May deadline.
It’s a topic ruffling feathers inside the statehouse. Missouri’s cash flow is at an all-time high thanks to billions of COVID-relief dollars. Last week the House Budget Committee made changes to the governor’s $47 billion budget proposal, but senators are saying representatives aren’t moving fast enough.
“I don’t know why it’s taking so long; I don’t know why we haven’t had it over here and I don’t know why they would do that,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence). “It’s going to be hard to meet that constitutional deadline and I hope people don’t play games with that because we always do that.”
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) called House members “irresponsible” Thursday to reporters for not keeping the budget process on track.
“The Senate usually wins the budget process,” Rowden said. “I don’t have any desire to lose this year.”
By law, the budget must be on the governor’s desk by May 6 at 6 p.m. Rowden said senators won’t rush the process just to get it done.
“We’ll go to a special session if we have to, to make sure we get the budget right,” Rowden said. “All we can do is hope folks act responsibly and with competence and I don’t know if I’m seeing that so far.”
He’s also warning representatives that the upper chamber is ready to make big changes once the budget is in the Senate’s hands.
“My assumption is either they don’t know what they’re doing or they’re trying to back us into a corner because of the time constraints,” Rowden said. “I’m not saying we’re not going to care about anything they do.”
This new dispute is on the heels of a congressional map battle, a topic lawmakers have been working to pass since January. The Senate passed its version of the map over a week ago.
Then, the House rejected the upper chamber’s version last Tuesday, asking for a conference and sending it back to the Senate. Senators rejected the lower chamber’s request Wednesday evening, sending it back to the House.
Before lawmakers left for the weekend, representatives rejected the Senate’s version for a second time. During a press conference Thursday, Rowden said it’s time for the Senate to move forward and go to a conference with the House to find a solution, but it still has to be voted on by senators.
Gov. Mike Parson said during a press conference last week he was “disappointed” in lawmakers for not getting the job done of passing a new congressional map.
“We should do our job, we should pass maps, we should do our constitutional duty and get a budget done which we should have had a while ago,” Rizzo said. “I don’t know what they’re doing in the House with the budget but a lot of it seems very draconian and quite honestly, petty.”
After working for more than 10 hours Thursday, the House Budget Committee passed more than a dozen budget bills, sending them to the floor for debate. Representatives are expected to take up the legislation for perfection Tuesday and will be allowed up to six hours of debate.
“People don’t want to hear about the bickering and the in-fighting and the conspiracy theories and all that other stuff,” Rizzo said. “We’re already behind the eight ball with the timing of it coming over and I would argue that you’re going to have a lot of differences we’re going to have to try and make up.
One of those differences is giving educators a pay raise, something both Rizzo and Rowden say they support.
The governor recommended a pay boost for new teachers, raising the minimum from $25,000 to $38,000. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) roughly 4,000 teachers make between $25,000 and $35,000. Budget chairman Rep. Cody Smith (R-Carthage) removed the pay raise from the budget last Monday.
While committee members perfected the legislation Thursday, the $21 million for raises was added back into the budget, but the boost would go to the Career Ladder program. This means that experienced teachers or those helping with extracurricular activities would see an increase.
Smith also wants to spread out the COVID-relief money over a period of years, instead of allocating it all within the same fiscal year, saying it’s hard to “jam all of that into a four-month legislative session.”
Once approved by the House, the budget bills will head to the Senate for consideration. Any differences made will be sent to “conference” for members to find a compromise.