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House votes to pass $50.8B budget, now goes to Senate

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The Missouri House of Representatives passed a $50.8 billion budget Thursday, falling short of the governor’s budget proposal by about $2 billion.

The budget, composed of 12 appropriations bills, allocates state funding for rebuilding Interstate 44, gives a pay raise to state employees and sends National Guard troops to Texas to protect the southern border.

Last week was the start of floor debate on the state’s budget bills, which must be passed and approved by May 10, the week before the legislature adjourns for the year.

While center-right lawmakers seemed pleased with the budget, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and Democrats from both chambers criticized the budget, albeit for different reasons.

“The budget that the House just passed is OK,” said Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, minority floor leader. “It doesn’t impose major cuts on state services, but it doesn’t do much to improve them, either.”

One of the most prominent faces of the Freedom Caucus, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said he wanted to see a balanced budget before it is passed.

“The Freedom Caucus is committed to ensuring that we’re going to pass a balanced budget in this state,” Eigel said. “The governor wasn’t able to submit a balanced budget to the legislature, but I find it very difficult to believe that the Senate would pass any budget that isn’t balanced.”

Legislators passed several budget bills allocating state funds to public education, statewide transportation, crisis pregnancy resource centers, expanding broadband access and other longtime legislative efforts.

Earlier in the week, the Republican supermajority voted down several amendments to budget bills introduced by Democrats – including changes that would have restored Gov. Mike Parson’s budget proposals – instead adopting several introduced by Republican legislators.

The appropriation bills passed Thursday included one that would allocate $727.5 million for rebuilding I-44, $8 million for the National Guard’s Operation Lone Star in Texas, $1.5 billion for expanding broadband access, a $120.6 million increase for funding the state’s K-12 education foundation formula and $100 million for rural and low-volume roads.

“I think there’s a bunch of folks who would like to see that some of those cuts were made, and still find ways to invest where we can, so hopefully we can strike that balance in the right way,” said Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Transportation, a budget priority for the legislature this year, was one of the most well-funded facets of the budget. According to a news release sent out after the House passed the budget, Missouri has more than 33,000 miles of state highways, with only about 5,500 miles of those highways bearing 77% of traffic.

“As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to ensure our state avoids wasteful spending and prioritizes critical infrastructure for the future,” House Budget Chair Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said in the news release. “This plan is a step in the right direction.”

This version of the budget will now go to the Senate. Legislators in the Senate will then debate and pass the budget before it goes into effect.

“As the budget comes over to the Senate, I’m eager to build upon the groundwork of the governor and the House,” said Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield. “I look forward to presenting a budget that ensures taxpayer dollars are utilized efficiently.”

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