Some Mo. senators vow to oppose stimulus spending
Monday, May 2, 2011
By DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri Senate could be headed toward another showdown over the spending of federal stimulus money.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill Monday reauthorizing the expenditure of about $467 million in federal stimulus funds previously allotted to Missouri. But some Republican senators pledged to try to block the bill from coming to a full Senate vote before Friday’s deadline to pass budget bills, asserting that it fails follow through on a deal to cut federal stimulus spending.
Earlier this year, four Republican senators upset about federal spending delayed a vote on reauthorizing Missouri’s participation in a federal program that extends jobless benefits to people who have been unemployed for a year and a half. They relented only after Republican Senate leaders pledged to try to help them cut $250 million in stimulus spending.
The bill approved by the Senate committee fails to hit that mark. Consequently, “we’re going to talk about it for a while,” said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, a leader of the earlier filibuster against the extension of federally funded unemployment benefits.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, meanwhile, encouraged lawmakers to give quick approval to the bill reauthorizing money for federal stimulus projects.
“This is vital federal money that we will lose if we don’t get this bill to my desk and signed,” said Nixon, noting that some of the money would go toward schools, public transportation, clean water programs and child-care assistance for low-income families.
At issue are numerous Missouri programs that likely will be unable to spend their full allotment of stimulus money before the fiscal year ends June 30. The legislation would reauthorize the spending in next year’s budget.
The Senate committee did eliminate $114 million of what was described as unneeded spending authority for stimulus money in next year’s budget. That’s being counted toward the $250 million in savings some senators are trying to achieve. But some — or even much — of that $114 million may not actually be savings. Senate staff said some of the spending authority is not needed in next year’s budget because it now is expected to be spent during the current budget year.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, another one of the lawmakers who filibustered the unemployment benefits, said he would be willing to also count toward the $250 million savings goal the projected $108 million reduction in state-funded unemployment benefits resulting from a provision in the unemployment bill that reduced eligibility for state benefits to 20 weeks instead of 26 weeks.
But that would still leave the senators who had filibustered the unemployment benefits short of their target in savings.
The Senate Appropriations Committee declined to follow Schaaf’s suggestion to trim roughly $37 million in spending authority for federal stimulus projects that have been previously budgeted but are not yet under contract.
Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, was not part of the agreement among the filibustering senators and the chamber’s GOP leadership to try to cut stimulus spending.
“I’m very hesitant to derail anything that’s a potential economic development or job-creation opportunity,” Schaefer said.
Like Lembke, Schaaf vowed after the Senate committee vote Monday to filibuster the stimulus spending bill when it reaches the Senate floor.
“If they fulfill their agreement, we will sit down. If they don’t, we won’t,” said Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.
Associated Press writer Chris Blank contributed to this report.
Stimulus bill is HB18.