Missouri senators spent nearly all day Wednesday debating, and passing, their version of the state government's $29.753 billion budget for the 2019-20 business year that begins July 1.
"I think it's right in line with inflation," Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, told the News Tribune. "But it is the largest budget that we've ever appropriated in the state of Missouri."
The new budget includes Gov. Mike Parson's proposed pay raise plan for state government employees. The plan includes 3 percent for all employees, with additional targeted increases to adjust corrections officers' salaries and to adjust the salaries of about 4,000 state employees so they can earn the "market minimums" for their jobs, when compared with other states and private businesses that have similar kinds of work.
"We (also) funded the benefits package for MOSERS and MPERS," Hegeman said, describing an $8.7 million increase for the Missouri State Employees Retirement System and $20.5 million extra for the separate retirement plan for Highway Patrol and state Transportation Department employees.
Both "continue to address our actuarial findings — what it would take to make sure we remain current and constant with our fringe benefits dealing with our retirement (for state employees)," Hegeman told the Senate.
He reminded colleagues the additional pay for Corrections workers that's above the 3 percent pay raise includes a "1 percent increase for every two years of continuous service, capped at 20 years, beginning Jan. 1, 2020."
The money to pay for the increase comes largely from the decision to consolidate the operations of the Crossroads and Western Missouri Correctional Centers, both in Cameron, into one facility.
"In the Department of Corrections, we've had a difficult time attracting and retaining staff," Hegeman explained, "and, to the extent in the Cameron area, we just couldn't find enough staff to fill the jobs — which then became a safety issue."
No one will be losing a job with the prison consolidation, he later told a reporter, and the state will retain ownership of the closed prison in case it's needed in the future.
The Senate's version of the Corrections Department funding bill also includes money to start addressing county governments' complaints that the state doesn't pay what it should for inmates held in county jails until their convictions.
Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler and several other area sheriffs told the News Tribune earlier this month the state owes counties $19 million statewide.
Hegeman told colleagues the Senate budget bill includes "$5,809,285 (for) the prisoner per diem" payments.
However, he added: "The House had some money to deal with the backlog or arrearage that's out there. The Senate is putting enough money in (only) for us to quit digging a hole and then we will address that (back debt) at another time."
Hegeman told the News Tribune there were no surprises during Wednesday's debate.
"It went surprisingly well," he said. "We, all along, kept an open door to the senators and listened to their concerns and tried to work with them.
"(We) explained when we couldn't or didn't have the capacity" to add items to the budget that lawmakers asked for.
State law requires the House and Senate to pass the same language in all bills and laws, so representatives from each chamber will meet next week in a series of conference committees to work through the budget bills and find common ground where there are differences.
Among those differences are the bonding plan to repair about 250 mostly outstate bridges.
Parson had proposed selling $350 million in bonds to repair or replace those bridges.
The House version of the budget proposed using $100 million a year for several years, without selling bonds, while the Senate's version uses some money directly for 35 bridges, then proposes to sell bonds to repair the other 215 bridges on the Missouri Department of Transportation's list.
The House and Senate also passed different plans to support Missouri's public colleges and universities.
"That will be a large discussion," Hegeman said.
Another difference is the Senate's plan to put as much money in the main budget as possible, while the House-passed budget deferred some spending to the supplemental appropriations bill that would be debated next year.
Although Hegeman is a veteran lawmaker — he served in the House from 1991-2002, and first was elected to the Senate in 2014 — this is his first time heading the Appropriations Committee.
"I've had a lot of able support," he said. "I've got 16 years in the General Assembly, as a whole, and I feel like I've got the experience to be able to help guide the state.
"And I'm honored and appreciative that my colleagues allowed me the opportunity to serve in this capacity."