JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After months of work on the state’s roughly $28 billion budget, the Missouri House of Representatives has perfected the budget bills for the 2019 fiscal year.
And the biggest news from the House floor is that the proposed cuts to higher education, made by Gov. Eric Greitens, have been fully restored by the House.
Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, the House Budget chairman, worked out a deal with the state’s colleges and universities that would limit tuition increases in return for steady funding from the state in the amount of $68 million.
Speaking before the House on Tuesday, Fitzpatrick said that most schools have agreed to cap tuition at one percent in exchange for the House’s plan to keep higher education funding steady and level in the next fiscal year, which begins in July. The one percent tuition cap comes in at a level that is less than the projected rate of inflation.
The lone holdout in the deal for limiting a tuition hike is Missouri Southern State University.
A statement issued by Clif Smart, the president of Missouri State University in Springfield, thanked Fitzpatrick and the legislators for the work.
“Restoration of the budget cuts will ensure students continue to have the opportunity to obtain an affordable quality education. If Missouri State receives the appropriations included in the House budget, tuition for in-state undergraduate students will increase by only 1 percent for next academic year,” Smart said in a statement.
“The one percent increase is less than half of the increase allowed by statute and keeps Missouri’s universities outstanding track record on affordability moving forward,” Paul Wagner, the executive director of the Council on Public Higher Education, tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
While it’s not the original complete ban that Fitzpatrick had sought, he said that what they were doing represented a “good compromise.”
Fitzpatrick stated that the universities could still opt to raise tuition at the rate of inflation if they do not get full funding, which could happen if the Governor decides to cut higher education again in the next fiscal year.
The move is significant, as it signals one of several initiatives put forward by Gov. Greitens that the House abandoned. In addition to restoring the cuts to universities, the House also fully funded the elementary and secondary school aid formula, moving past Greitens’ $50 million increase for K-12 and adding $99 million.
They also added some additional cash for the Department of Transportation, roughly $163 million for MoDOT construction projects.
The Legislature made it clear early on that they would not go along with Greitens’ proposed plan to take out a $250 million loan fund to return income taxes on time.
Most of the amendments put forward over the course of the day were shot down by the Republican-controlled body, denying special earmarks on projects like allowing undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition, defunding small rural schools, as well as a motion that would make universities spend 10 percent of core funding on student safety.
A number of changes were made throughout the day, including some amendments by Fitzpatrick restoring more than $500,000 in vehicle replacement funds, $180,000 in restored funds for the National Guard, and a $3.8 million line to pay county reimbursement arrearages.
But what proved, again, to be one of the tensest discussions was that of the budget of the Department of Health and Senior Services. Though more than a week has passed since the House Budget Committee voted to move the state lab out from their department and place it under the Department of Public Safety, all stemming from the fact that the department had not adequately answered the representatives’ questions regarding the Bourbon virus.
“If a human being dies, especially a state worker, I want information,” Rep. Justin Alferman said. “I want to know.”
Alferman said he had an issue taking “the bureaucracy at the Department of Health” at their word, saying that his constituents sent him down here to find answers.
“How do you get a state department to pay attention?” he asked. “Cut their budget.”
“Are we just punishing the department for not listening to us?” Rep. Peter Merideth asked.
But the majority won out, killing the amendment that would have restored the state lab under DHSS with a voice vote.
Shortly before 10:30 p.m., as the House continued their work on HB 2011, dealing with the $9.2 billion budget of social services, Rep. Deb Lavender stopped to tell her colleagues one thing after several of her amendments had been killed.
“In case you didn’t know, I lost three times before I got here,” she said, before putting forward another budget amendment.
“It’s called persistence.”
That paid off, as the budget chair sighed and agreed to support her endeavor.
Her amendment passed with a 100-30 vote, giving $1 million in weatherization assistance.
The perfected budget confirms a break between the legislature and the Governor on the issue of the budget, echoing the sentiment that while the Governor makes recommendations, the Legislature makes the budget.
This story originally appeared on missouritimes.com