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Mo. Budget Blocked by Senate Conservatives

Jordan Shapiro, KMOX Capitol Bureau
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JEFFERSON CITY, MO (KMOX) – The Senate adjourned near midnight after eight hours without a compromise on Missouri’s $24 billion budget.

A group of nine Republican fiscal conservatives held up the budget over concerns the state is spending too much money. The group of fiscal hawks held several closed-door meetings with Republican Senate leadership during Monday’s evening session.

Majority Floor Leader Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said progress had been made over the course of the evening and the two groups only had a few issues left to resolve. Among the issues are a proposed pay raise for state employees and cuts to early childhood programs.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, was one of the nine senators who blocked a vote. Lembke directed his criticism toward Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

“There are a number of colleagues who have a concern that is not being met,” Lembke said.

The lengthy debate on the state budget is unprecedented in recent decades. Typically, the Senate rubber stamps the budget approved by the Appropriations Committee.

The group of nine said they were concerned about the revenue estimates used to balance next year’s budget. Schaefer’s budget relies on $50 million of additional revenue from lottery sales than what the state took in last year.

When asked if the group’s claim the budget was not in balance was true, Schaefer said “no.”

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, argued that spending, not revenue was the problem.

“Funding higher education is going to be on the chopping block because we cannot control our spending,” Purgason said.

Other members of the group criticized the use of one-time revenue to balance ongoing programs, specifically $40 million being used to help hold public universities at level funding from last year.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, took to Twitter to reject that claim.

“Senate is decrying use of ‘one-time’ funds but they put $50 million in one-time federal Obamacare money in Medicaid computers,” Silvey tweeted.

Schaefer’s budget gives the Department of Social Services authority to spend $50 million from a federal grant to upgrade the state’s Medicaid computer system and also pave the way to set up a health exchange, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. The state would have to pick up another $57 million tab to complete the computer upgrade. The House voted to not accept the grant when they passed their budget last month.

Despite the open dissent from Republicans, Dempsey said there was still plenty of time to pass the budget and the sticking points were being addressed. Dempsey said 99 percent of the budget has been agreed upon and they are working on the last part.

In addition to Lembke and Purgason, the fiscal conservative gang included Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, and Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

The state’s budget must be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk by May 11.

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