JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With less than 48 hours for lawmakers to get a budget to the governor’s desk, the General Assembly has yet to agree on how much the state should spend in the coming year.

It’s a recurring question: when will the General Assembly debate and pass a budget? With their backs up against Friday’s constitutional deadline, leaders in both the House and the Senate remain hopeful. But if a spending plan doesn’t make it to the governor’s desk in time, it could end up costing taxpayers. 

“Every day we’re in a special session, it’s costing taxpayers’ money just to do what Republicans should have done weeks ago,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said.

The General Assembly has only missed the constitutional deadline once, and it was back in the 1990s.

“But 48 hours away from the constitutional deadline to pass a budget and we don’t have any budget bills on the floor,” Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said Wednesday night. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The House approved their version of the $51 billion budget back at the beginning of April. Since then, it has been in the hands of the Senate.

“I do know that the Missouri House is not going to be able to accept a budget back from the Senate that is unbalanced or kind of spending beyond our means or in a way that is unsustainable,” Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said back in April. “My hope is that they will keep things on track.”

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Normally, senators and representatives spend their final week negotiating the differences. But with the tight turnaround, members have had to forego the meetings. This means the discussions are happening behind closed doors between House Budget Chairman Smith and Senate Appropriations Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield. 

“When we do things like this, we’re just taking that step out and it means that we don’t know, the public doesn’t know what’s in the budget until we’ve already voted on it,” Merideth said. 

Many in the statehouse are concerned with each minute passing. The General Assembly is moving closer to a special session.

“I mean, I think that’s an unnecessary use of taxpayer money for all of us to come back and do something that we feel like we can get done now,” Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said. 

The biggest difference between the House’s version and what came out of the Senate committee is the increases for higher education and various construction projects across the state. The governor asked lawmakers to approve a 3% funding increase for colleges and universities 

“With as bad as the process has been this year, with as much as the transparency has been lacking, as much as we don’t know what’s in the budget and haven’t had the proper chance to vet it, I’m not sure it’s the worst thing in the world if it ends up in a special session,” Merideth said. 

The Senate is set to come back into session Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., where leadership says members will debate and eventually pass the budget. Once that happens, the spending plan still has to go back to the House for final approval. 

Under the constitutional deadline, the budget must be on the governor’s desk by 6 p.m. Friday.