JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – A big task awaits the Missouri Senate as the upper chamber plans to address the state budget this week. 

Back in January, Gov. Mike Parson sent a budget request worth nearly $53 billion to lawmakers. Earlier this month, the House approved a spending plan that cut roughly $2 billion from Parson’s proposal. This week, in the Senate, members plan to add money back into the budget for education and infrastructure. 

“We’re not going to act like Washington, D.C.,” Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said. “We’re not going to come back here during a special session because we can’t do our job in the regular session.”

It’s a constitutional duty that requires hours of debate. The House spent nearly 10 hours earlier this month debating the $50 billion state budget, which included cuts to the core funding increases for colleges and universities, along with reducing the overall bucket of money to increase teacher pay from $25,000 to $40,000. 

“They made cuts to veterans’ programs; they made cuts to two-year institutions and one-time funding,” Hough said. “We’re probably going to be putting a number of those items back in.”

Parson asked the General Assembly to give a 3% funding increase to colleges and universities to help with inflation, but the House reduced that to 2%. 

After the House approved the spending plan earlier this month, House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said the cuts the House made come from a decline in Medicaid enrollment. 

“The governor recommended a plan that would use that surplus to support those ongoing expenses in a way that I worry is not ultimately sustainable; once that surplus revenue is expended, we would ultimately fall into a budget shortfall,” Smith said. 

The former St. Louis brands and businesses missed most

Budget talks in the Senate come as members still need to address the federal reimbursement allowance, the tax that funds the state’s Medicaid program worth nearly $4.5 billion. 

“It’s the glaring, no pun intended, elephant in the room because it’s really hard for the appropriations chair to go into committee and do markup if, in fact, he doesn’t know if there’s a $4.5 billion in there or not,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said. “I don’t think it’s time to panic quite yet.”

The FRA is a tax paid for by health care providers like hospitals and then matched by the federal government, impacting more than a million Missourians. 

But a group of Republican senators, known as the Freedom Caucus, said last week that there is no rush to get the FRA renewed before debating the budget. 

“They are trying to create a narrative of, oh my gosh, it even has to pass before the budget, I mean, it doesn’t have to be renewed until the end of September, if I’m not mistaken,” Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said. “So, to say this is an emergency is just beyond the pale. It’s not true.”

Hough, who is the Senate Appropriations chairman, said what is staying put in the spending plan that the House added is roughly $365 million to start improving parts of Interstate 44. 

“Rolla has a portion, Springfield has a portion and there’s a portion around Joplin, but the totality of the project is one not feasible,” Hough said. “Rough estimates have it almost $8.5 to $9 billion.”

One provision the governor asked for in his proposal is a 3.2% pay raise for state employees, which the House left in the budget. 

The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to start meeting Tuesday afternoon, reviewing changes to the House’s version. Hough said the hope is that the full Senate will be debating the spending plan next week. 

According to the constitutional deadline, the budget must be on the governor’s desk by May 10.