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House sends $29 billion state budget to Senate

(Missourinet) The Missouri House voted Thursday in Jefferson City to approve a $29.2 billion state operating budget, which includes a $100 million transportation infrastructure plan.

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (pictured), R-Carthage, tells House colleagues it’s the first time in recent history that general revenue would be used to fund roads and bridges.

“This is not in place of those dedicated road funds, this is not in place of the system of the road fund that we have where the gas taxes and fees and everything dedicated to funds go into that road fund,” Smith says.

Smith says his $100 million plan does not raise taxes or incur new debt. He says the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has paid more than $700 million in debt payments in the past two years.

Meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, tells Missourinet Governor Mike Parson’s proposed $350 million bridge bonding plan is still alive in the Senate, adding that discussions are ongoing.

Governor Parson’s bonding plan is aimed at repairing or replacing 250 deteriorating bridges.

As for the House, Chairman Smith has expressed concerns with the governor’s plan because of debt, noting that MoDOT’s five-year average debt payment is $313 million per year.

Governor Parson spoke Thursday at an MU Extension event in Columbia, and spoke to our sister network Brownfield about the House plan. Parson says the $100 million plan is not enough.

“No I don’t think it is, it’s not and I’m not sure that obligation to do, you know the plan that we put out there was for $350 million, and I think to really have an impact that’s what you have to look at,” Parson tells Brownfield.

Interstate 49 runs right through Smith’s southwest Missouri district, which has a strong transportation presence.

Smith also tells House colleagues he opposes placing another gasoline tax increase on the ballot.

“The people of Missouri have spoken,” Smith says. “They don’t want a higher gas tax. That’s not on the table.”

Missourians rejected a proposed ten-cent gasoline tax increase in November. Missouri’s 17-cent gasoline tax has remained the same since 1996.

Meantime, the House’s $29.2 billion budget includes an $8 million retention pay plan aimed at investing in wage increases in Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) staff.

Chairman Smith praised the plan Thursday on the House floor.

Governor Parson says the DOC has 11,000 positions, making it the state’s largest agency. The governor says DOC employees are among the nation’s lowest-paid corrections professionals.

The vice chairman of the Missouri House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee is also praising the retention pay plan. State Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, tells colleagues the plan will improve DOC employee retention.

“I think most of you in here (the House chamber) know that they’re the lowest paid probably in the United States. We’ve had several issues that we’ve dealt with in the Department of Corrections and have made major changes with the new director (Anne Precythe) who’s done such a great job,” says Hansen.

State Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, the House Budget Committee’s ranking Democrat, says some Missouri corrections officers have moved to Iowa for better pay there.

Under the budget approved by the House, DOC employees would receive the three percent pay increase all state workers would get. They would also receive a one percent increase for every two years of continuous DOC employment, up to 20 years.

The House’s budget also supports the governor’s plan to consolidate two prisons in northwest Missouri’s Cameron, which is aimed at improving employee retention.

The budget now heads to the Missouri Senate. The state Constitution requires lawmakers to approve a balanced budget by early May.

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