This week, the governor released his budget recommendations for the state’s $28.7 billion operating budget. Right after the release, Senators and staff quickly began diving deep into the recommendations. For the most part this is a conservative budget, however there are a few budget requests that are concerning.

The governor has recommended nearly 50 new spending items, also he is recommending cutting universities’ budgets by $68 million. While changes and reforms are needed in higher education, those can be carried out without the steep cuts, and not at the expense of higher tuition and more loans for students and parents. The Missouri economy needs a skilled workforce, and we shouldn’t be making it harder to acquire to those skills and stunt the growth of our economy.

The governor’s budget proposal also includes a nearly $163 million increase in infrastructure funding for Missouri’s 34,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges. There has been much debate in the General Assembly on how to fix the state’s infrastructure’s funding shortfalls and get the much needed funds to repair our state’s roads and bridges

Moving forward, the Senate will craft our own budget recommendations. We will take into account the one tenth of a percent tax cut resulting from Senate Bill 509 in 2014, the rising health care costs and the cuts made in last year’s budget. We are also watching how the federal government tax cuts will affect us in Missouri. While general revenue growth is good, it’s limited growth.

Fiscal Year 2019 starts on July 1, 2018. The General Assembly must approve and send its proposed budget to the governor by May 11, 2018, for his approval. While the constitutional deadline for approval is still months off, budget work is in full swing.

Senate off to productive start

As the Senate wraps up week four of the 20 week legislative session, it has been a productive start to the 2018 legislative session. The Senate is voting bills out of committee earlier than we have seen in the last few years. We have already referred and heard some House Bills in committee. Voted out of committee this week was House Bill 1246, which would require the Department of Public Safety to develop human trafficking hotline posters. The posters would provide information and resources for victims of sex trafficking. As lawmakers, we realize the importance of this bill, and intend to move it forward as soon as possible.

We also held healthy floor debate this week on some of the state’s most important issues. Senate Bill 564 would cap the rate of energy costs, jumpstart economic growth in our state and provide Missourians with smarter, more secure and more stable energy. The measure received bipartisan approval from the Missouri Senate’s Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee.

Also debated on the floor was Senate Bill 567, which would reform the Senior Citizens Property Tax Credit. The savings from the property tax credit would be deposited into the Missouri Senior Services Protection Fund. Along with a one-time transfer from four other funds, we could put about $25 million towards the care of our elderly, disabled and veterans.

Finally, the Senate perfected Senate Bill 563, which restores cuts made last year to the MO Rx Program. The MO Rx Program is essential for our senior citizens. The measure removes the Medicaid dual eligible requirement and retains the income limitations. This measure restores prescription drug benefits to nearly 64,000 of older Missourians.

We are just getting started. From our progress already, I know we will have a successful session.

Mike Cunningham is a Republican member of the Missouri State Senate, representing District 33. Contact him at 573-751-1882 or www.senate.mo.gov/cunningham

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