Governor Parson wants ‘big ideas’ for Missouri’s budget surplus

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Missouri Gov. Mike Parson wants to do big things with the billion-dollar budget surplus and federal aid to Missouri, state lawmakers said last week.

During a hearing of the federal stimulus spending subcommittee, higher education leaders offered their wishlists for projects the state could not afford in the past.

Southeastern Missouri State University at Cape Girardeau wants $ 11 million for an expanded performing arts center. The State Technical College of Missouri in Linn wants $ 20 million to renovate its engineering and welding technology centers.

And the University of Missouri wants $ 115 million to develop a new research complex at Columbia focused on nuclear medicine and the campus research reactor.

“I don’t want to speak for the governor’s office, but I can tell you they’re really interested in, you know, making a proposal that includes some of the big ideas that weren’t within our reach in previous budgets. Zora Mulligan, Parson’s commissioner of higher education, told the committee.

The committee heard from K-12 schools, higher education and the Department of Natural Resources.

If Parson wants to take his January budget proposal further, he will have plenty of money to do so.

The Treasury already holds more than $ 4 billion in unrestricted funds, of which $ 2.6 billion is available for almost any purpose permitted by the Missouri Constitution.

The other $ 1.4 billion is federal pandemic assistance from the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Democrats in March, which has a long list of uses related to recovery, economic development and infrastructure. .

The money on the way is almost $ 4 billion more. There is still $ 1.4 billion in federal general-purpose assistance and $ 1.2 billion over the next two years because the state has expanded Medicaid eligibility.

The money with the fewest restrictions is general income. On October 31, the general revenue fund held $ 2.3 billion, nearly five times the balance two years earlier.

Taxes brought in $ 1 billion more than expected over the prior year. That’s enough to generate another billion dollar surplus in the current year, as the budget was written with much lower expectations.

Lobbyist Jim Moody was the state budget manager when lawmakers spent $ 600 million – $ 1.5 billion in current dollars – from a bond issue in the mid-1980s.

“I think you’re going to get spending that will be a pretty good multiple of what the Third State Building Fund was, say $ 2, $ 3, or even $ 4 billion,” Moody said. “The big challenge is, if you get such a big package, how do you make sure you don’t create ongoing obligations.”

The subcommittee’s work began in April, when the Missouri Highway Patrol requested $ 88 million for a new academy building among other funding plots. Those looking for federal money, subcommittee chairman Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs said last week, must prove long-term value to the state.

The state’s share comes from money borrowed by the federal government, he said. If Missouri doesn’t spend it, he added, it won’t.

“We have to manage these dollars effectively because we are contributing to the debt ultimately, which will have to be paid off at some point by future generations,” Richey said. “So, that being said, that doesn’t mean that ideas that cross the desk of this committee are just going to receive a no, but those that receive a yes will be projects that are worth the debt.”

K-12 schools

In testimony last week, Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven called on lawmakers to find money to raise teachers’ salaries.

Missouri is 50th in the country for starting teacher salary and 45th for average salary. Only Montana has a lower starting salary. Only Arkansas has a lower average wage among neighboring states, Vandeven said, and the state is spending money to raise wages.

Salary is one of the main reasons the state struggles to keep enough teachers in classrooms, Vandeven said.

“It’s very, very easy for our teachers to cross state borders, and it’s something we have to pay very close attention to,” she said.

Missouri has a minimum teacher wage law, but there is no mechanism in state law to determine how much local districts pay above that amount. The state does not directly affect the remuneration of teachers.

Vandeven said she wants to spend $ 52 million on a program called Grow-your-own, a development program that offers scholarships to high school students who want to become teachers and promise to return to the sponsoring district after obtaining their diploma.

However, his suggestions that lawmakers should spend money on raising wages drew some backlash from some committee members. Richey said the comparisons left out Missouri’s generous retirement system.

He also said local districts, like the one he lives in, can ask voters to approve new taxes to raise wages.

“So it’s not that the state of Missouri and our budget in terms of funding the foundation formula is holding us back,” Richey said. “There are other options.”

Vandeven, however, noted that state funding is intended to minimize the differences between rich and poor neighborhoods. School districts depend on property taxes and many are too small to generate significant new funds.

“It creates a greater challenge in our communities who cannot do this,” she said. “And in a lot of cases, it’s the communities that really need great teachers.”

Higher Education

The $ 172 million demanded by the state’s small higher education institutions during last week’s hearing was not visionary enough for a member of the subcommittee.

“I want to know what it feels like to have a unique opportunity to revitalize institutions, not just one shiny building for each campus or one renovation, one per campus,” said State Representative Kevin Windham, D- Hillsdale . “What does it look like to make institutions look like cutting edge institutions across the state? “

Paul Wagner, executive director of the Council for Public Higher Education, had just presented the list. It totaled $ 172.5 million spread across 10 schools, the smaller four-year universities and the State Technical College.

“I would say this list is tailored to what the governor asked us to deliver, which was big, the biggest, most transformational type of projects,” Wagner said.

The University of Missouri, with four campuses, is asking for $ 263 million, Ryan Rapp, vice president of finance, told the committee. With Columbia’s new research center, the claim is $ 50 million for each of the other three campuses.

All higher education applications represent 50 percent or less of the total cost, with each campus pledging fundraising or internal funds for the remainder.

At the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, UM would invest the money in the Missouri Protoplex, a center for advanced manufacturing research. On the Kansas City campus, the money would support the development of the health sciences district and a 25% increase in the number of UMKC medical school graduates, Rapp said.

At the St. Louis campus, funds would support the consolidation of the campus and the redevelopment of the property that is no longer in use.

The biggest demand, Rapp said, is intended to be the next step for the university after the opening of the Roy Blunt NextGen Precision Health Building, a $ 214 million, 265,000 square foot research facility built with minimal state support.

The university has the largest campus-based nuclear research reactor in the country and is keen to develop its potential for supplying isotopes used in medicine.

“So he really wants to move forward and say over the next 10 years, how will we rebuild this research infrastructure at Mizzou? Rapp asked.

For Windham, the demand for the UM system is starting to meet its expectations.

“I wish everyone was as aggressive as Mizzou when he asks for ownership,” he said.

In an interview after the hearing, Wagner said the institutions he represents may come up with more ideas. While Windham wants more, Richey warns lawmakers will be picky when spending federal stimulus funds.

Schools believe it’s a workable deal, Wagner said.

“We are happy to do business with the committee under these conditions,” said Wagner. “Facilities that improve educational opportunities and improve the workforce at the same time are exactly the kind of investments that would fit those criteria.”

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, non-partisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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