May 4, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

LAWMAKERS PASS $27.75 BILLION STATE OPERATING BUDGET

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on May 4 granted final approval to a $27.75 billion state operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that eliminates services for many elderly and disabled Missourians and slashes funding for higher education while providing local public schools a relatively modest funding boost. The Senate had passed most of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the operating budget for 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1, but was still working on final passage of the remaining bills in advance to a May 5 constitutional budget deadline.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly on May 4 approved a $27.75 billion state operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that eliminates services for many elderly and disabled Missourians and slashes funding for higher education while providing local public schools a relatively modest funding boost. The 13 appropriations bills that make up the operating budget provide the legal authority for the state to spend money during the 2018 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

In his budget recommendations, Republican Gov. Eric called for saving about $52 million by eliminating nursing home and in-home care services for more than 20,000 disabled and elderly Missourians. While the House of Representatives balked at that plan, Republican House leaders proposed restoring those services by eliminating the co-called “circuit breaker” tax credit for low-income elderly and disabled Missourians who rent their homes. The Senate, however, thus far has refused to follow suit.

As a result, the final budget would eliminate nursing home and in-home care services for about 8,000 Missourians, instead of the 20,000 suggested by the governor. However, the budget includes contingency provisions to fully restore those services if the Senate ultimately agrees to pass separate pending bill to eliminate the renter’s credit, which appears unlikely.

The budget cuts operational funding for four-year and two-year higher education institutions by nearly 6.6 percent. The $909 million in general revenue appropriations for higher education in FY 2018 is less than the $911.56 million in general revenue spending authorized for higher education in FY 2000, nearly two decades ago.

While the budget increases basic state funding for local public school districts by $48 million over FY 2017 levels, that amount is the smallest annual increase in five years and is well below the recent average increase of $88 million a year. However, because Republican lawmakers last year overrode a gubernatorial veto to slash more than $400 million off the amount of additional money needed to claim full funding of K-12 schools under state law, the $48 million bump provided in FY 2018 meets the new statutory definition of full funding.

 

INTERNAL DYSFUNCTION AGAIN SHUTS DOWN SENATE

With just days remaining in the 2017 and only a handful of bills granted final passage, the Missouri Senate was essentially shut down for three days due to infighting among majority Republicans. This marks the third straight year internal dysfunction has brought the chamber to a standstill late in session, jeopardizing the passage of dozens of bills.

From May 1 through May 3, the Senate basically conducted no official business as some senators aired at length various grievances that have contributed to the current situation. With a May 5 constitutional deadline for passing the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year looming, however, senators agreed to temporarily set aside their differences to allow for final passage of the appropriations bills.

Once the budget is finished, it remains unclear if the shutdown will be reinstituted during the final week of session, which under the state constitution must end no later than 6 p.m. on May 12. As May 4, only 12 non-appropriations bills have been granted final passage.

In at least the last 20 years, the fewest non-appropriations bills to pass in single regular legislative session was 67 in 2000. During the 2016 session, the legislature passed 129 non-appropriations bills.

 

GREITENS ADMITS TO VIOLATING CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAW

Gov. Eric Greitens on April 28 admitted to violating state campaign finance laws by failing to disclose his campaign’s use of a donor list from the non-profit organization he used to run. The Missouri Ethics Commission fined Greitens’ campaign $1,000, but the bulk of the fine will be suspended so long as $100 is paid within 45 days and neither Greitens nor the campaign commits any further violations in the next two years.

Because donor lists are valuable fundraising tools, if a campaign uses another organization’s list, it is required to report it as an in-kind contribution. Greitens’ campaign committee failed to do so with the donor list of The Mission Continues, a charity for aiding former veterans that Greitens founded and ran until he decided to run for governor.

Greitens, a Republican, signed a joint stipulation of facts with the ethics commission admitting to the violation. Although he campaigned on vow to fight alleged corruption in state government, Greitens has been dogged by questions of his own ethics since taking office, including his acceptance of untraceable “dark money” campaign contributions, his refusal disclose the amounts donors gave to pay for his inauguration ball and his use of an independent committee to circumvent Missouri’s campaign contribution limits and finance political attacks against lawmakers, mostly fellow Republicans, who have displeased him.

 

NET GR COLLECTIONS UP 3.1 PERCENT SO FAR IN FY 2017

Net state general revenue collections for the first 10 months of the 2017 fiscal year increased 3.1 percent compared to the same period in FY 2016, going from $7.4 billion last year to $7.6 billion this year. Net general revenue collections for April 2017 decreased by 3.3 percent compared to those for April 2016, going from $1.2 billion last year to $1.17 billion this year.

Year-to-date general revenue collections had been running at 4.3 percent through March. General revenue collections must increase 7 percent to cover all of the spending authorized last spring by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. To put the budget in balance, however, current Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, and his predecessor, Democrat Jay Nixon, implemented a combined $350 million in midyear spending restrictions.