The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City (Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent).
Anti-diversity budget language called a “job killer” by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce didn’t survive the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday, as the panel wrapped up its work on the state spending plan for the coming year.
Over two days of work, the committee added more than $3 billion to the House-approved budget for state operations in the coming fiscal year. The biggest items added Wednesday were $300 million for the Department of Mental Health to build a new psychiatric hospital in Kansas City and $461 million to increase the pay of personal care workers who assist people with developmental disabilities.
The committee also restored $4.5 million for state aid to public libraries, cut in the House because the Missouri Library Association and the ACLU are suing over legislation passed last year intended to block children from accessing sexually explicit material.
The biggest new item overall was $2 billion for widening Interstate 70, added on Tuesday.
The 14 spending bills will be debated in the Senate next week, setting up negotiations with the House to iron out differences before the May 5 deadline for appropriations.
Exact totals were unavailable Wednesday, but the tally will be higher than both the House plan, which spends $45.6 billion on state operations, and the budget proposed by Gov. Mike Parson, which asked for $47.7 billion. The extra money comes from bond debt, increased federal aid and the massive general revenue surplus projected to be at least $5 billion at the end of the current fiscal year.
The anti-diversity, equity and inclusion language, added during House floor debate by Rep. Doug Richey to the 13 spending bills for state operations as well as the supplemental appropriations bill for the current year, created large and small headaches for state government. It had the potential to cause delays or cancellations in state contracts and endangered the Medicaid program.
“The uncertainty associated with the language that the House applied to those appropriations bills is unknown,”said Sen. Lincoln Hough, chairman of the appropriations committee. “And I don’t like doing things when we are running a state that I don’t know what the consequences are. That does not seem like a responsible thing to do.”
None of the 14 members of the committee, dominated by Republicans, objected or tried to add language Richey is pushing as a narrower version that would not impact contracting or state services.
Asked about the Senate vote, Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, said he will continue to push for some version to make it into the final budget.
“I appreciate the fact that conversations are ongoing,” Richey said.
In a news release issued Tuesday, the Chamber of Commerce listed Richey’s amendment among four measures under consideration by lawmakers that it contends are job killers.
“Rep. Richey’s language bans state government spending on staff, vendors, consultants and programs associated with diversity, equity and inclusion,” a statement from the chamber read. “If passed, this will bring Missouri’s government to a grinding halt.”
The strong committee vote in favor of budget bills without the language is a signal to the House that the issue is dead in future budget negotiations, Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, said. The 14 bills approved in the committee Wednesday were all passed unanimously or with only a single dissenting vote.
The committee, she said, “is astute enough to realize anything of this sort would cost the state billions of dollars.”
The additions to the Department of Mental Health budget will be used to replace an aging facility in Kansas City called the Center for Behavioral Medicine. The current hospital, built in 1966, has 100 beds and “is in utter disrepair,” Hough said. “No member of the committee would even want a neighbor they didn’t like to be housed there.”
The $300 million would build a 200-bed facility. University Health leases half of the current facility and would be a tenant in the new hospital as well, department Director Valerie Huhn said.
The replacement facility would relieve pressure on other institutions operated by the department, Huhn said in an interview with The Independent. Lack of staff and beds means there are more than 220 people deemed incompetent to stand trial waiting for placement in a state mental facility because there is no room.
Fulton State Hospital has empty beds because of staffing shortages and the department has canceled plans to consolidate sex offender treatment there. A new, larger facility in Kansas City would help, in part because of a more available workforce, Huhn said.
“Kansas City is probably the place where we have the best staffing,” Huhn said.
A $451 million addition to the budget would boost rates paid to local agencies providing residential support services for people with disabilities. The extra funding would allow those agencies, struggling to find staff like many service providers, to set a base pay of $17 an hour.
The MIssouri House, during budget debate last month, narrowly defeated an amendment that would have added $308 million to the budget to boost the base pay, currently $15 an hour, by 8.7%.
The committee worked swiftly through the budget bills and Hough spent hours with individual members before this week’s meeting discussing the items they wanted to add.
“We made investments in things that have been put off for a long time in this state,” Hough said.
This article has been updated since it was initially published.
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