Lawmakers pass historic budget, with teacher salary increases and tax credits for some Missourians

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JEFFERSON CITY, MO. – The largest budget in Missouri history sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature after lawmakers spent Friday giving final approval.

Lawmakers were able to get the job done less than four hours before Friday’s constitutional deadline of 6 p.m. The spending plan totals $49 billion, about $10 billion more than last year’s budget. This includes raising teachers’ base salaries, fully funding the Medicaid expansion population, and some Missourians will receive a tax credit.

“The winners of this budget are the citizens of the state of Missouri,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence). “We are really investing a lot in infrastructure over the next few years.”

Whether you were Republican or Democrat, there seemed to be a slice of the $49 billion budget that made everyone happy.

“He is making an unprecedented investment in K [kindergarten] – 12 education in the state of Missouri,” House Budget Speaker Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said.

The Show-Me State has the lowest teacher salary in the nation, which is nearly 20% lower than the national average. That’s why lawmakers gave their initial approval to increase it to $38,000 a year, but if there are districts that have teachers who are already earning $38,000, they won’t see the extra money.

“This will be my first year in the House where I vote for all of these operating budget bills,” said Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis).

Lawmakers also allocated $214 million for school transportation, the first time it has been fully funded since 1991.

“To fully fund school transportation, something we used to fund at 40% for the past few years,” Merideth said. “We are finally funding it 100%.”

Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars is being spent to raise the minimum teacher salary from $25,000 to $38,000. The state would pay 70% of the increase and the rest is up to the district, but the money is only available to schools where teachers currently earn less than $38,000.

According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), about 4,000 teachers earn between $25,000 and $35,000 a year. This increase will cost the state more than $21 million.

There’s also $37 million for the Career Ladder program in the budget, giving increases to experienced teachers. Under state law, teachers who earn professional credits, mentor students, or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program.

Higher education also gets an increase in funding, with $10 million for community colleges and an overall 5.4% increase in funding for all colleges and universities.

There is also $50 million in the budget to help students recover from learning losses that occurred when schools closed during the pandemic.

Other budget items approved by the Senate committee, $2.4 million to fully fund the twice-daily Amtrak service that connects St. Louis and Kansas City, known as the River Runner. The train was reduced to one trip per day in January due to a lack of funding.

But there were still tensions between the two chambers, particularly over the bill regarding how American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds would be spent.

“The House sent it to the Senate very late and we didn’t have a lot of time to work on it,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby. “It was a moment where we really got caught. It would have been nice to be able to work more, but that’s where we ended up.

In one of 19 budget bills passed Friday, lawmakers approved full funding for the state’s $2.5 billion Medicaid program. Nursing homes and other providers will also see increased state rates to care for low-income Missourians.

ARPA’s budget is $3.4 billion, most of which is spent on infrastructure projects and increasing broadband throughout the state. This money, while not due to be spent until 2026, will be used for things like improving sidewalks and intersections and sewage treatment projects.

“It’s $3 billion, no conversation, not checked and not even debated,” Rep. Rasheen Aldridge (D-St. Louis) said. “This side of the team has not been treated fairly, in my view from both sides of the aisle.”

There was heartburn among members that the Senate made its own changes to the budget, adding another $1 billion to the version sent by the House and passing it less than 24 hours before the Friday night deadline. .

“Again, this is happening in the final minutes of the final day to reduce the likelihood of us pushing back,” Rep. Tony Lovasco (R-O’Fallon) said.

On Thursday evening, Hegeman added a non-refundable tax credit to an internal bill that would stipulate that employees would be paid every two weeks. It would cost the state up to $500 million and would be based on last year’s filing. Single filers could get a rebate of up to $500 and married couples could see up to $1,000.

An amendment proposed by Rizzo introduced an income cap, prohibiting anyone earning more than $150,000 a year and $300,000 for a married couple from receiving the refund. The House passed a similar version earlier this session, a priority for House Republicans.

“They did this specifically to pressure us into accepting their priorities because they knew it would be difficult to press the ‘no’ button for credits for a tax credit that the majority of people present in this room are supporting,” Lovasco said.

House Democrats opposed the credit, saying it would not go to Missourians who need it. Eventually, the bill ended up passing, sending him to the governor’s office.

“We’re doing our job and giving people their money back,” Rep. Scott Cupps (R-Shell Knob) said. “It’s not our money. It’s their money and we’re going to give some back.

ARPA bill also includes $83 million for a new Missouri State Highway Patrol training facility, $104.6 million to build a new crime lab for the Department of Security and $148 million for Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) grants.

Even with the $500 million tax credit and sweeping spending plan, Hegeman said the state is leaving $1 billion on the table unspent.

Some things that didn’t get lawmakers’ approval were a $500,000 raise to the attorney general’s office to hire five more attorneys. It was a request from the House. Then it was deleted by the Senate after Sen. Lincoln Hough (R-Springfield) said Eric Schmitt, who is running for the U.S. Senate, continues to sue schools for COVID mitigation.

Another was a request from the governor’s office to pay for a new state trail, along the Rock Island Railroad Corridor. Gov. Mike Parson originally requested nearly $70 million in federal relief funds to develop the trail that would connect to the Katy Trail, but was not funded in the spending plan.

The governor has until July 1 to sign off on the budget or he can veto any element of the spending plan.

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