JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri House passed the Education Department's budget Wednesday with few changes, but not before some representatives tried to strip out money slated for Kansas City desegregation programs.
The state has spent more than $1.3 billion on Kansas City desegregation programs since 1986, when the courts first ordered Missouri to make the payments, said Linda Luebbering, budget analyst for the Education Department.
Kansas City desegregation is now back in the court system after a series of negotiations. A hearing for the case has not yet been set, according to Education Commissioner Bob Bartman.
The department's budget for next year includes $262 million for state desegregation programs, $110 million of which is slated for Kansas City. Some legislators argue it would be better to leave the Kansas City money out of the budget.
"We should not continue to pour money down a rat hole," said Rep. Pat Kelley, R-Lee's Summit, who tried to delete the money from the state budget during a Tuesday committee meeting. "Every year we throw away more money on this."
Kelley's move met with strong opposition from the rest of the committee.
"Appropriating this money is a safeguard," said Rep. Dick Franklin, D-Independence. "If we don't do it and a judge says we must pay this, where does it come from?"
But a few members, such as Rep. Charles Shields, R-St. Joseph, did support Kelley's move to take the money out of the budget. Shields also brought the issue onto the House floor during Wednesday's session, but it was once again shot down.
Shields said he is concerned that negotiations between Kansas City and the state have always been handled by the governor and the Education Department.
"I want the legislature in this discussion," Shields said. He said by not including the money in the budget, the administration would have to include legislators in the negotiations by coming back later to request the funds.
Shields added the chairs of the House and Senate Budget Committees should be negotiating alongside the governor.
Regardless of who is sitting at the bargaining table, legislators looking to take the money out of the budget said such a move would strengthen the governor's hand.
"Appropriating the money ahead of time is like going into an auction and saying what your top price is," Shields said. "It's like saying how much you have in your pocket."
But Chris Sifford, spokesman for the governor, said he did not think taking out the money would help negotiations.
"I don't think we have that option," Sifford said. "We have certain obligations we have to fulfill."
Bartman expressed relief after efforts to remove the money from the budget in committee failed.
"We have to recognize that the state of Missouri is responsible for these payments until a judge lets us out of that responsibility," Bartman said.
In the first years of court-ordered desegregation, the administration and legislative leaders had decided to keep desegregation payments out of the budget.
They argued that including desegregation funding in a budget approved by the legislature and signed by the governor would indicate state acceptance of the court's finding at a time the state was continuing to appeal the federal court decisions.
In addition, keeping desegregation money out of the budget protected lawmakers from political attack for roll-call votes approving the court-ordered plan.