Missouri Senate spars over $50 billion state budget, anti-diversity initiatives

JEFFERSON CITY — A coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the Missouri Senate turned back an attempt late Tuesday to use the state budget to promote a GOP-led anti-diversity initiative.

On a 14-18 vote, the Republican-led chamber defeated a push by hard right faction of the party to insert language into the nearly $50 billion spending plan that opponents said was racist “bull crap.”

The outcome was notable amid other states where similar culture war issues have been successfully adopted by Republican majorities.

The scene was set with lawmakers ready to debate the state’s massive spending plan, which is spread over more than a dozen bills covering spending by the state, including money for schools, police, prisons and programs aimed at helping the mentally ill.

Republicans aligned with Senate GOP leaders worked behind the scenes to turn back a push by a faction of their party to add controversial anti-diversity, equity and inclusion language that had been included in the House package, but stripped by the Senate Appropriations Committee when it arrived in the upper chamber.

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Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, introduced an amendment to place anti-diversity policies back in the budget in a more limited manner. Rather than affecting state contracts with private businesses, the proposal would only focus on initiatives within state government.

“I think we have some of these concepts that are going on in our state agencies right now. Many of my constituents are fed up with the woke DEI,” Hoskins said.

Sen. Bill Eigel, a Weldon Spring Republican who is posturing for a run for governor, slammed Senate leaders and Gov. Mike Parson for failing to embrace his party’s anti-diversity push, which has been panned by leading business groups.

“The status quo does not want to let go,” Eigel said.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Springfield Republican who leads the budget panel, said the language could derail major state contracts and affect state efforts to recruit a diverse workforce at a time when the state is struggling to fill front-line positions.

“When you are crafting a $50 billion budget… uncertainty causes me concern,” Hough said.

After sitting quietly for three hours, Democrats erupted over the ongoing roadblocks erected by the conservative bloc.

Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said the push by Hoskins, Eigel and their allies was a blatant display of racism designed to appeal to GOP primary voters who subscribe to conspiracy theories.

“I’m here. Do you see me? I’m African-American. Do you see me?” May shouted to her colleagues. “How come you don’t inquire of me? Why do you only inquire of white Caucasian men? I’m not sure what the end game is, but it is offensive.”

Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, said the GOP infighting was distracting from more important issues facing the state.

“We have a huge problem in our state right now with kids in particular who are walking our streets carrying firearms,” Roberts said

“We are focusing on bull crap that is not going to make Missouri better,” said Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City.

After more than five hours of fruitless stalemate, Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, recessed the chamber at 9:40 pm giving Hough time to whip some votes to kill the amendment.

The amendment was defeated on a 14-18 vote soon after.

“It’s obviously very disappointing,” Eigel said, who then launched into an extended debate over the size of the proposed budget, which has been fueled by the post-pandemic economic surge.

Bolstered by an estimated $5 billion surplus, the Senate budget blueprint for the fiscal year beginning July 1 includes nearly $50 billion in spending, including a long-sought $2.8 billion widening of Interstate 70 and a diverse array of expansions affecting pre-kindergarten programs, pay for mental health workers and a 7% boost for state universities and community colleges.

Because of the overall differences between the House and Senate, negotiations on a final version will be hammered out by a joint committee next week as they rush toward a May 5 constitutional deadline to finish the plan.

Hough suggested the plan could have been even bigger because the committee left $2.5 billion in the bank for another year or a significant emergency.

“There were billions of dollars of asks that the committee did not approve,” Hough said. “We’re in a unique position… because of the influx of new money.”

The Senate’s I-70 proposal differs from what Gov. Mike Parson had sought when he unveiled his spending priorities in January. The governor, who helped usher in an increase in the state’s gasoline tax two years ago to pay for more road building, had called for a limited expansion focusing on three busy segments along the corridor, Wentzville, Columbia and near Blue Springs on the eastern outskirts of Kansas City.

The House version of the budget earmarked $859 million for the work.

The Senate plan, however, would spend $1.4 billion from general revenue to build additional lanes in each direction on the 190 mile stretch in between Wentzville and Blue Springs, and finance the remaining $1.4 billion with bonds to be repaid over 15 years at an estimated annual cost of about $135 million.

Other spending initiatives inserted by the Senate include restoring Parson’s call for $78 million to boost pre-kindergarten programs in the state’s school districts.

The Senate also added $300 million to build a new psychiatric hospital in Kansas City to replace an aging facility, a major expense that may not have been considered in leaner years.

The proposal includes $50 million to help the Jackson County Sports Authority prepare for the World Cup soccer event Kansas City is hosting in 2026. Officials hope that payout will bring significant dividends from fans descending on the state.

Also included was a $461 million Democratic priority aimed at increasing the pay of personal care workers. Under the plan, the base rate of pay for employees who assist people with developmental disabilities would be at least $17 per hour.

The Senate plan dumps House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith’s retaliation against the state’s public libraries for opposing a GOP law designed to block children from reading sexually explicit material. Smith, a Carthage Republican who plans to run for state treasurer, stripped $4.5 million in state funding for libraries in his version of the budget.

State colleges and universities would see a 7% increase in state aid, which Parson had sought. The House plan called for some of that increase to be based on performance measures that have not yet been developed.

The Senate proposal endorsed a House position to allow the Department of Mental Health and the Missouri Veterans Commission to outsource food service to a private company. The move follows a similar plan enacted last year for the Department of Corrections, which then issued a $45 million contract to Philadelphia-based government services giant Aramark.

The National Guard would receive $2 million to boost recruitment efforts.

The University of Missouri is in line for $25 million to develop a slaughterhouse in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture to test new ways of processing animals into food.

It also includes a 20% salary bump at the Missouri State Highway Patrol to address high turnover rates that have plagued all of state government.

Smaller items in the plan include $700,000 to help Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis deal with the aftermath of last year’s shooting that killed a teacher and a student.

The legislation is House Bills 1-15.

Updated at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Missouri’s Legislature reflects the federal structure in many ways. Video by Beth O’Malley

Originally Appeared Here

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