Republican and Democratic leadership in the Missouri Senate are bewildered by the budget process and initial cuts working through the state House.
In a news conference Thursday, the Senate majority and minority floor leaders railed against the House for slow-walking budget legislation and removing some of Gov. Mike Parson's key funding priorities.
Parson laid out a $47.3 billion budget during the State of the State address in January. The funding plan uses federal dollars and historic state general revenue to invest in a multitude of programs and initiatives.
A proposal from House Budget Chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, includes 52 pages of changes to the governor's proposed budget, including reduced funding for teacher pay, lead abatement, community revitalization, broadband development and the Missouri State Employees Retirement System.
The House Budget Committee debated the changes and overall budget in a hearing Thursday.
Although no final plans have been solidified, Senate leaders are rattled by the preliminary changes.
"I think the way the House has gone about this budget process has been not great and fairly irresponsible," said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. "We're going to write our budget."
"All we can do is hope that folks act responsibly and with competence," he continued. "And I don't know that I'm seeing that so far."
Rowden said the House is three weeks late in getting the budget to the upper chamber, which is troubling as the Legislature has several other priority deadlines for different legislation.
"My assumption is either they don't know what they're doing or they're trying to back us into a corner because of the time constraints," he said. "We'll go to special session if we have to, to make sure that we get the budget right."
Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said he wants the Legislature to perform its constitutional duty of passing a balanced budget, noting the Senate should've had the budget bills "awhile ago."
"I don't know what they're doing in the House with the budget, but a lot of it seems very draconian and, quite honestly, petty," Rizzo said.
He specifically pointed to the House cuts to teacher pay raises Parson suggested and vowed to restore them at some point.
Parson suggested $21.8 million for teacher recruitment and retention. The funds would be used to provide a match to local school districts and raise the minimum annual salary of teachers to $38,000.
Rowden also said he'd like to see restored funding for teachers.
In Thursday's budget hearing, Smith said he wants to take the budget one step at a time and deliberately appropriate general revenue funds that don't have strict deadlines the federal funds do.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, encouraged Smith to have a plan for spending the funds, cautioning if the House didn't, the Senate would.
"The Senate usually wins the budget process," Rowden said. "I don't have any desire to lose this year."
Rowden said the budget will be front and center of the Senate in the next few weeks.
While the Senate would still consider budget initiatives coming from the House, Rizzo said he's expecting numerous differences in the budgets laid out by Parson, the House and the Senate.
The combination of several differences in budget plans and the House slow-walking the budget process could make it difficult to meet the state's constitutional deadline for passing a balanced budget, Rizzo said.
"I hope people don't play games with that," he said.
The Senate will also begin debating legislation coming from the House next week. Rowden said tort reform, education, voter ID and eminent domain bills will be up for consideration.