JEFFERSON CITY - After weeks of gridlock, late-night filibusters and personal attacks, the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate sent the state's $24 billion budget to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk one day before deadline with higher education coming out as a big winner.
Despite starting the year with a $500 million budget shortfall, the budget holds flat funding for public universities and local school districts. Colleges were facing a 15 percent cut under Nixon's proposed budget, but House and Senate leaders said they made a policy decision to give higher education the same amount as this year.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the downward trend in higher education funding had to stop this year.
"I am glad we put that money back in, and that is not to imply this was not an extremely tough budget year," Schaefer said. "We simply had to set the priorities where we saw the priorities should be, and that is in education."
The top House Democrat on the budget committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was glad the cuts were reversed, but said the current funding trends could not continue.
"With our reductions in funding every year, college and university budgets are now so lean with more cuts they will be laying off teachers, professors and researchers," she said.
Schaefer said the ride to pass the budget was "bumpy" but that he was glad to have the budget passed without raising taxes. The Senate spent many late nights debating the budget with insults and personal attacks being leveled against Schaefer and Senate leadership.
Opponents in the Senate said the budget was not structurally balanced and was based on "rosy" revenue projections. Schaefer and House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, both defended the budget and said they did the best they could with what they had.
Despite the good feelings among Republicans on Thursday in passing the budget, Democrats warned that tough times may be coming for the state. Lampe said unless the state is willing to find more revenue sources, "next year could be Missouri's version of 'The Hunger Games.'
"We have a balaned budget, but is that good enough?" Lampe asked.
Although education for K-12 was held flat, it is still $460 million below what the school funding law calls a fully funded system. Lampe said lawmakers must find a way to address this disparity.
The budget also gives state workers their first pay raise in nearly five years. The pay plan gives a 2 percent raise to all state workers making less than $70,000 a year. That target number affects 54,000 employees, which is 97 percent of the workforce.
House and Senate leaders said this budget depended on finding a dedicated funding source for veterans' homes. Before passing the budget Thursday, the House and Senate agreed on a plan to fund the homes with money from casinos.
The deal to fund veterans' homes also included a plan to change the way public universities are funded. In a compromise between the House and Senate about a $2 million earmark for Southeast Missouri State University, a proposal was put forward to have a committee write a formula to distribute money to the different colleges. The formula could take effect in 2015.
The state's fiscal year begins July 1.
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