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Missouri Senate will debate budget Monday

Missouri Senate will debate budget Monday

April 27th, 2014 in News

Missouri's Constitution requires lawmakers to do one job each year - pass a budget for the next business year, which begins July 1.

And the Constitution says they have only two weeks to finish that job, because it must be done no later than 6 p.m. on the first Friday after the first Monday in May - or May 9, this year.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard plans to debate the Senate's version of the 13 budget bills when this week's session begins at 3 p.m. Monday.

Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, told reporters last week: "If you think back at, really, the last four years - ever since I've been chairman - it really hasn't taken all that long on the floor.

"I think the committee's done a tremendous job during the committee process of getting things vetted and making sure everybody knows what the issues are, (but) that doesn't mean that somebody, if they have a disagreement with some item, they're not going to want to spend some time on the floor on that issue - and that always happens."

Senate passage of the 13 bills will set up a series of conference committees with the House over any differences between the two chambers, before the final package of bills is delivered to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Two major construction projects are included in the budget plan, Schaefer told reporters last week, and all the bills include a 1 percent pay raise for state government employees.

In his State of the State address last January, Nixon had proposed a 3 percent state employees' raise.

"One percent is about $12 million for a half year, so it would be $24 million for a whole year," Schaefer said, acknowledging many state employees want bigger growth in their paychecks. "Are they still up to where they should be?

"Probably not - which is why we funded the committee that Sen. (Mike) Kehoe is putting together, to make sure that we look at the disparity between state employees (here) and other states."

Kehoe and Reps. Jay Barnes and Mike Bernskoetter, all R-Jefferson City, are members of a special "interim committee" on State Employee Wages formed several years ago to determine how Missouri workers' incomes compared with government workers in other states, and with comparable jobs in the private sector.

Bernskoetter chairs that committee. A couple years ago, they decided to hire an outside consulting firm to look at salaries and benefits - but this is the first year that funding for that study has been included in the state budget.

"We're bringing them up slowly," Schaefer said. "But what we're not going to do is simply throw more money at it until we have a better sense of where those greater disparities are."

The budget also includes funding for a new Fulton State Hospital - one of three proposals lawmakers are debating this year to pay for replacing the aging buildings at the oldest mental health hospital west of the Mississippi River.

"It's funded under Gov. Nixon's plan in the core budget, which would be $14 million annually to pay off the bonds," Schaefer said. "Basically, that is the governor's plan to bond for 25 years, and it incurs $150 million in additional interest."

Schaefer, House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, and other lawmakers prefer a different bonding plan with a faster pay-back rate.

"While everyone's in agreement on building the hospital, we probably could do it on a faster basis and save the state of Missouri about $150 million that could go to other things," Schaefer explained.

""Fulton is in Sen. (Mike) Parson's bonding bill and is also in a capital improvements bill."

But, even though he doesn't like Nixon's plan, Schaefer left that line in the main budget in case the other two bills fail to win passage this year.

The budget also includes $33 million to build a new State Historical Society of Missouri facility in Columbia.

Currently, the society is in the basement of the University of Missouri's Ellis Library.

"When you look at the priceless documents - the history of Missouri - that belong to all Missourians," Schaefer said, "that are currently being stored in a basement, that suffers water leaks - and there was a fire that damaged some of OVERSET FOLLOWS:those in Ellis Library.

"We are obligated to make sure that we protect those assets that belong to the state."

Schaefer reminded reporters that every year's budget must be a balancing act among competing interests, priorities and available revenues.

"And this year is no different than any other year," he said.