What’s the status of the budget as Missouri lawmakers begin conference committee?

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As budget negotiators met behind closed doors over the past week – an effort that intensified Monday late into the evening – the split between the House and the Senate focused on the debate Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer had been craving: Education v. Social Spending.

Schaefer’s budget would cut $140 million from the Departments of Health and Senior Services, Mental Health and Social Services, while offering them lump sums with which they could decide how to administer the cuts. Overall, his budget as a whole, passed by the Senate, is $61 million smaller than the House proposal.

If the $140 million is restored in social spending, and kept the Senate’s increases elsewhere in the budget – education – then lawmakers would be $79 million over budget before restoring any cuts the Senate made to the House’s proposal.

The debate over the past week, according to those with close knowledge of the negotiations, has been how to restore the social spending without losing increases elsewhere. Anything they add to House Bills 10 and 11 over the $61 million that they left on the bottom line would have to be cut from the additional spending the Senate included elsewhere.

According to one lawmaker, the lump sums Schaefer proposed are out. The debate, then, has been over the lines they would replace them with.

Schaefer, a Republican of Columbia who is running for attorney general next year, has met privately off and on with House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan, and more specifically with House Speaker John Diehl, both of whom were mostly absent from the floor during debate last evening.

Schaefer’s controversial budget lost the support last week of his Senate leaders, as well as Diehl.

On Friday, Schaefer told the Columbia, Mo., radio show, “The Morning Meeting,” “what the Majority Leader and President Pro Tem said undermines my ability right at a critical point in negotiations.”

As the conference committee readied to meet Tuesday morning, it came after yet another year of private negotiations rather than public ones over the fate of $26 billion of taxpayer money. Flanigan dodged questions by reporters on Monday evening about the status of negotiations.

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