Springfield Sen. Lincoln Hough reflects on first session as budget chair: ‘We had a really good year’


In the first year of his second and final term in the Missouri Senate, Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, watched the continued infighting of his party hold up various priorities — some Republican and some bipartisan — and saw through the largest budget in state history as the chairman of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Hough, who previously served three terms in the Missouri House and two years on the Greene County Commission before first running for the state Senate in 2018, has been part of a changing political landscape, both in Jefferson City and at home over the course of his time in politics.

Not so long ago, Missouri was considered a purple state or, at a minimum, light pink, reflecting a mix of votes for Democrats (blue) and Republicans (red) at the top of the ballot. But the state has shifted to the right. Republicans hold every statewide office and supermajorities in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly.

Springfield, on the other hand, has become more purple. Once a reliably Republican stronghold, three of its five state representatives are Democrats. Springfield Rep. Crystal Quade, the Missouri House Minority Leader, announced her Democratic candidacy for Missouri governor on July 10.  

Nonetheless, Hough remains popular among Springfield voters, demonstrated by handily winning the Republican primary, and easily being reelected to the state Senate in November 2023.

For Hough, 2023 budget, session full of wins for Missouri, Springfield

The budget process is not new for Springfield’s state senator. Hough served on the Missouri House Budget Committee for six years, and more recently as the vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee before being appointed as chair this year following the terming-out of the committee’s former chairman, Sen. Dan Hegeman.

“I called him and I said, ‘Dan, I’ve got a new appreciation for how busy you were. I thought I was busy as your vice chair,’” Hough said in a wide-ranging interview recently with the Springfield Daily Citizen.

“He said, ‘Oh no, now you’ve got all of it. Not only do you have all of my colleagues from the Senate, but you also have House members coming over.’ You have interested parties from every corner of the state.”

In a recent Springfield speech, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson commended Hough’s work as the budget chair, and said that he does an even “better job” of advocating for southwest Missouri.

Missouri’s Republican Gov. Mike Parson speaks with members of the media after delivering his “State of the State” speech for the Chamber of Commerce in Springfield. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Of the state Senate’s 34 elected members, 14 serve on the Appropriations Committee. Hough and his colleagues have faced a unique challenge in recent years in investing billions of dollars in one-time federal dollars that came in response to the economic impact spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My message from the very beginning was something that Senator Hegeman and I started doing as long ago as two years previously, which was reminding folks that we need buy-in from local communities,” Hough said.

It was important to Hough for that one-time funding to be invested, alongside dollars received by local governments, in capital projects that were supported by the communities in which they would take place. 

The biggest and most expensive of those capital projects was the first thing Hough pointed to when reflecting on highlights of the state budget — the widening of Interstate 70.

In his January 18 State of the State address to the General Assembly, Parson requested $859 million to widen three sections of I-70. 

That day, Hough met with MoDOT officials to see what it would take to widen I-70 from Blue Springs to Wentzville, suburbs of Kansas City and St. Louis, respectively. 

Finding a way ‘to get this whole thing done’

“I just said, ‘If we’re going to spend $900 million, can we not figure out a way to get this whole thing done? Can we not figure out how we can do the entire project?’” Hough said. “And so, through the next several weeks, months, working with stakeholders, working with contractors, working with MoDOT and our Office of Administration, came up with a package that will ultimately get that done.”

The House Budget Committee backed Parson’s $859 million request. However, when it came time for Hough and the Senate Appropriations Committee, they tripled Parson’s request, allocating $2.8 billion to improve and widen the interstate that connects the state’s two largest metropolitan areas.

Parson later signed off on the additional funding, and referred to it as a “dream idea” come true in his recent speech in Springfield.

Missouri State Sen. Lincoln Hough, center, smiles as Gov. Mike Parson praises his work as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“I think, honestly, in my tenure in the legislature, that will be probably one of the most transformative infrastructure projects in the state,” Hough said.

The $300 million approved in the budget for a new psychiatric hospital in Kansas City is another highlight of Hough’s.

“Whenever I toured the facility that we’re going to be replacing … you wouldn’t want some neighbor that you don’t really care that much for being housed in that facility now,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment to the state, so we needed to prioritize that.”

In addition to the new hospital, the focus and funding on mental health and increasing provider rates for in-home care was important for Hough. 

He is also happy with the $78 million committed to boosting the state’s child care subsidy program, as well as the investments made by the state in all levels of education, specifically pointing to the budget fully funding the School Transportation Formula for the second year in a row.

Barricades block people from accessing the Jefferson Avenue footbridge from its south end at a plaza on Commercial Street. The bridge has been closed to foot traffic since 2016. (Photo by Rance Burger)

On a smaller and more local scale, Hough is excited to see the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge in Springfield be repaired, which received an allocation of $8 million in the state budget. The pedestrian-only bridge, which connects the Commercial Street Historic District to the Moon City Creative District over a large railyard, was built in 1902 and was closed in 2016 after the Springfield Public Works Department found structural deficiencies.

“It’s going to be an interesting project to watch unfold just because I think there are 14 or 15 or 16 active rail lines,” he said. “This isn’t going to be some slam dunk, easy thing to do. I think it’s going to be tough. But I think our community and specifically that portion of Springfield in that historic district of Commercial Street, we’re all stirred for having that thing back online.”

A previous push to fund $5 million in repairs for the bridge was vetoed by Parson in 2022, after Hough led the charge in axing $69.2 million for the Rock Island Railroad Trail from Franklin County to Henry County, a project that Parson included in his initial budget recommendations that year.

Hough said that he’s always had a “very good” working relationship with Parson, adding that there needed to be a balance between the governor and the legislature’s ideas about the direction of the state, regardless of whether they’re from the same party or not.

“I’d hate to venture a guess that it was a tit for tat kind of thing … I know, the word is blasphemy in politics now, but it is an art of compromise 90 percent, 95 percent of the time, I don’t think the executive should just get to roll out the budget and say, here’s what I’m doing and everyone get in line,” he said. “And likewise, the Senate shouldn’t do that to the House, and the House shouldn’t do it to us — we all have to really work together.”

I-44 at the Kansas Expressway interchange at 5 p.m. on March 25, 2022. (Photo by Bruce Stidham, Stidz Media)

As far as losses, Hough said that the $28 million vetoed for Interstate 44 in Springfield was “tough,” but added that the $20 million Parson approved for a an environmental study on the entirety of I-44 in the state will get them where they want to be as construction on I-70 begins.

In his Springfield speech, Parson pushed back on criticism that his administration received for vetoing funding for I-44, pointing to the $125 million in total funding for the freight-heavy interstate if you include monies from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

“I think ultimately, the investments that we made around Springfield, that we made in southwest Missouri, and then some big investments that we’ve made in other parts of the state, they’re going to be good for generations,” Hough said.

In addition, Hough played a pivotal role in restoring $4.5 million in funding in the budget for public libraries, after it was cut by the House. The House measure was intended as a penalty because the Missouri Library Association and the ACLU had sued over legislation passed last year intended to block children from accessing sexually explicit material. At the time, he told “This Week in Missouri Politics” that “it was kind of a punitive cut that the House made and I believe we’ll be putting it back in.” 

Missouri State Sen. Lincoln Hough works the room at Great Southern Bank Arena on the campus of Missouri State University prior to Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State speech on Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Pair of bills sponsored by Hough highlight his priorities

Between time spent fielding calls and requests from colleagues and constituents about the state budget, Hough sponsored a pair of bills, Senate Bill 24 and Senate Bill 25, that were ultimately signed by the governor. 

SB 24 was packed full of provisions ranging from tax credits for adoption expenses to enabling first responders to administer naloxone or any approved device to block the effects of an opioid overdose, to legalizing the possession, manufacturing and use of any device to detect fentanyl in controlled substances, in addition to many other components. 

Most prominently and widely recognized in the bill, however, was its focus on providing mental health resources to first responders. The legislation established post-traumatic stress disorder as an occupational disease and expands the voluntary critical illness pool to include first responders — specifically emergency medical technician-basic, emergency medical technician-paramedic and telecommunicators — which includes benefit access for diagnosable trauma stress.

Hough described SB 24 as one of his most important pieces of legislation, and was recognized, along with Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, at a bill signing at Springfield Fire Station #13 on July 27.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson holds up a copy of Senate Bill 24 at a bill signing ceremony at Springfield Fire Station #13, the city’s newest fire station. Parson is flanked by Missouri Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, left, and Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Firefighters, police officers and emergency medical service personnel from around Southwest Missouri were in attendance, along with Parson, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure and other leaders.

“For [Hough] to take time to do [SB 24], I will tell you, it’s because he believes in the issue,” Parson said. 

Parson, a former Polk County sheriff, shared a story of the difficulty in telling his deputies about the death of one of their fellow officers in the line of duty, and said there wasn’t much help in terms of mental health resources at the time.

Parson said that SB 24 was “so important” in helping first responders access those resources, and is “the beginning” of more that can be done.

Hough referenced a Kansas City Star story about KC first responders that struggle with PTSD that told the story of an EMT struggling after the death of a six-month-old infant in his arms.

Missouri State Sen. Lincoln Hough, center, sits between Springfield Mayor Ken McClure, left, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, right, while attending a bill signing at Springfield Fire Station #13 on July 27, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“It’s part of their job, but nobody signed up for that,” he said. “That’s an incredibly tough situation, so making sure that they’ve got the services on the back end to make sure that they’re taken care of is probably one of the biggest, in my opinion, legislative accomplishments for me.”

SB 25, on the other hand, exempted federal grants to Missouri taxpayers to expand broadband internet in areas of the state lacking access from state taxes.

“We’re trying to deploy more high-speed internet,” Hough said. “We shouldn’t be taxing the grant that a business receives to build out that because all you’re doing is taking, we’ve taken miles out that could be afforded to those populations that don’t have it now.”

Republican priorities stalled by legislative logjam

While Hough primarily looks back on the 2023 legislative session positively, he witnessed or played a key role in holding up various GOP — and some bipartisan — priorities. That contributed to gridlock on some issues, reminiscent of the now-dissolved Conservative Caucus, a group of hardline Republicans that have fought against members of their own party as well as Democrats in recent years. Hough was not a member of the caucus.

Because 24 of the state’s 34 senators are Republican, he stressed that there would be diverging interests, but that infighting amongst them was ultimately not productive. 

“I think the frustrating thing for folks is when it devolves from the policy, and just turns into, ‘I stubbed my toe when I woke up this morning, and now I’m upset, and we’re not going to work today in the Missouri Senate,’” Hough said.

Hough specifically pointed to tort reform legislation and statute of repose bills that failed due to pushback from some Republicans.

After a bill limiting foreign ownership of Missouri farmland — an issue that has received some bipartisan support — passed the House, Hough was among those in the Senate to keep it from reaching the governor’s desk. 

State Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield (Photo: Missouri Senate Communications).

Hough said that the issue is “a good talking point,” but that they received a lot of pushback from business groups and senators, like himself, who farm. 

“What you’re really talking about there is telling private business owners who they can and can’t sell their business to,” he said. “It sounds nice, but in practicality, you’re telling me because I raised cattle in this state, and I own agricultural land, that if someone from a country that you deem unworthy of owning property in this state comes to me and wants to buy my farm, I am precluded from selling it to him. 

“That doesn’t seem very small government — to me, that seems like really big government telling the small business guy what he can do. Far be it for me to have a bunch of suburban Republicans tell the guys in rural Missouri what they can and can’t do with their life.”

Missouri Republicans also have sought to raise the threshold to amend the state constitution through the initiative petition process from a simple majority to 57 percent. The efforts come amid a push to reinstate abortion rights in Missouri with a ballot measure in the 2024 election.

People march from Park Central Square to the Federal Courthouse June 24, 2022 to protest the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v Wade. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

While Hough agrees it should be more difficult to amend the constitution and that changes need to be made, he doesn’t think that they’ve landed on “the best solution.” He specifically pointed to Amendment 3, which legalized recreational marijuana in Missouri in 2022 with just over 53 percent of the vote, suggesting that less than 3 percent of the electorate read the entirety of the amendment, which was 39-pages long. 

“I think people need to have access to the ballot, when there’s a strong enough will of the voters of this state to put a question forward. … It’s about balance, it’s about still giving people the access they deserve, while not bastardizing the constitution every election cycle,” he said.

While Hough was supportive of the state stepping in to remove St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who eventually resigned after a tenure filled with criticism in her handling of cases, he stopped short of expressing support for a state takeover of St. Louis police, another priority for some Republicans.

“I wouldn’t want someone coming into Springfield and saying, ‘Here’s what you’re going to do in Springfield now, because we don’t like the way that you’re running your city or your planning and zoning department or your business license, registration office or whatever,’” Hough said. “The folks in St. Louis that represent the city fought that every time it came up, and ultimately, the will of the body was just not there to get it done.”

The legalization of sports wagering was yet again stymied in the Missouri Senate, five years after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which severely restricted sports betting in the country. 

Missouri is now in the minority of states where sports wagering remains illegal, despite several efforts in the state legislature in recent years to change that. Sen. Denny Hoskins has long sought to pair the legalization of sports betting with that of video lottery terminals (VLTs), a type of unregulated gambling machine that has proliferated around the state.

Hoskins, who is running against Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller for Secretary of State in 2024, has repeatedly deployed the filibuster to halt sports betting legislation that doesn’t include VLTs.

Hough said it was “frustrating” to see sports betting fail because there wasn’t enough support for VLTs in the Senate.

Missouri State Sen. Lincoln Hough listens to Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State speech at Great Southern Bank Arena on the campus of Missouri State University on July 27, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Open enrollment of Missouri’s public schools for nonresidents, another GOP priority, also failed to get across the finish line in the Senate. 

While Hough understands its feasibility in larger metros where transportation can be provided to students, he doesn’t see how it can work in rural Missouri. 

“I think the devil’s in the details on things like that, because the school being [in the] receiving district would need to then receive at least some portion of the dollars associated with that pupil entering the classroom, and they’re going to have to have room to have the ability to do that. I think it’s not as easy as just saying, ‘Well, we should just have open enrollment all over the state and everybody can just go wherever they want.’ I don’t see it as that simple of an issue.”

Hough also played a central role in killing Senate Bill 10, which would’ve banned federal “red-flag” laws, and kept the state from accepting federal funding to enforce those laws.

Hough optimistic ahead of election year

Through the Senate’s continued infighting in recent years, which resurfaced in the final days of the legislative session this year, there have been plenty of high points for Hough, and he remains optimistic about the future. 

“I’ve tried really hard to remain positive about the good things that we are doing,” Hough said. “I think, oftentimes, people like to focus on the negative and say, ‘Well, you need to get that done.’ But we did make some historic investments around the state that are going to pay dividends, I believe.”

Unless a special session is called, the Missouri General Assembly will convene one last time this year for a constitutionally mandated veto session on Sept. 13, where lawmakers weigh overriding some of Parson’s vetoes.

Including the $28 million in funding for I-44, there were a total of 201 line-item vetoes in the state budget, amounting to $555.3 million being cut from a variety of projects around the state.

While Hough participated in his fair share of overrides — which requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers — when Democrat Jay Nixon was governor, it is rarer for the majority of the executive’s party to do the same.

Missouri State Sen. Lincoln Hough speaks at a bill signing at Springfield Fire Station #13, the city’s newest fire station, on Thursday, July 27, 2023. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

“The thing that I try to remind folks is that I feel like we had a really good year, let’s not get bogged down in the thing that you didn’t get, and let’s maybe focus on all the good things that we have done,” Hough said.

Hough said that several legislators have reached out to him to explore possible veto overrides on specific projects, but he is unsure of where those conversations will go and would like to take a look at some of those issues next year.

“It’s a tough balancing act, when a lot of colleagues want to keep cutting, and keep cutting, and keep cutting taxes that are collected, and at the same time, want to pack specific funding for specific projects,” Hough said. “And I’ve said it on the Senate floor before, but you can’t always have it both ways. You can’t say I want to cut a billion dollars in taxes, or I want to eliminate corporate income tax … and still come into my office and say I have $23 million worth of requests for my district. At some point, the math just doesn’t work anymore.”

Even as Hough remains optimistic about next year, he’s wary of the dynamic that comes with it being an election year. He, however, will not be campaigning again until 2026, when he terms out of the Senate, if he chooses to seek election for another office.

In the meantime, Hough is training one of his horses to carry the Missouri flag alongside Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. The horse, he said, is not one for flag waving.

While Hough said he wasn’t sure if Kehoe, who is running for governor in 2024, would want an official endorsement from him, he all but gave him one. Kehoe is among the frontrunners, including current Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and Sen. Bill Eigel, vying for the Republican nomination.

“Mike’s been a friend for a long time, and I think he’d make a phenomenal governor,” Hough said. “He’s the kind of guy that I would hope would end up in the governor’s mansion.”

Missouri State University President Clif Smart, center, speaks with Missouri lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate Mike Kehoe, right, before Governor Parson’s State of the State speech. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee

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