JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers have less than three weeks to pass the state’s largest budget and redraw a congressional map.
As of Monday, five bills have been sent to the governor’s desk, the same amount of legislation compared to the same time last year. There are still big priorities waiting to be debated and the longer legislators wait for some, the more lawsuits it could mean for Missouri.
“Do think we will end up with a map by the time we sine die, I do not,” said House Minority Leader Crystal (D-Springfield).
The Missouri General Assembly will adjourn indefinitely in less than 15 days. One big-ticket item still on the agenda: a congressional map.
“The last three weeks, a lot of things are dictated by what’s in front of us, what the House sends over, and what we can get access to,” said Senate Majority Leader (R-Columbia). “We certainly have a stalemate that we haven’t quite figured out how to get past but we’re not giving up.”
Missouri is the last state in the country to pass a map, something that has to be done every ten years after the census. A handful of lawsuits have already been filed because candidate filing closed at the end of March, and the dozens of candidates running for Congress don’t know their district lines.
“Folks are very frustrated, mainly within the Republicans over in the Senate, that we are not going to get to a resolution, which for us, let the courts decide and go from there,” Quade said. “No, I don’t believe we will actually land somewhere.”
The deadlock comes after the House rejected the Senate’s version, asking the upper chamber to go to conference, but some senators don’t want to compromise.
“We haven’t talked about them [maps] on the floor in a little while we’ve had a functioning Senate,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence). “We’re working. We’re doing things. We’re having substantive debates and discussions about things. We’re not yelling at each other and doing those things.”
Senate Leadership has previously said they have until the clock strikes 6 p.m. on May 13 to pass a map but if that doesn’t happen, the courts could intervene.
“Just to say for sure we know how the court is going to respond or any other outside entity is going to respond if we don’t get this thing done, I think is not right,” Rowden said.
Already a handful of lawsuits have been filed against the state.
Both the House and Senate version is a 6 Republican-2 Democrat, similar to what’s already in place. Unlike the House, the Senate put both military bases, Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base in the same district. It also puts more of St. Charles County in the same district.
In the current map, the population in the county is split 65% to 35%. This new version would split the county 80% to 20% with the most population in the 3rd Congressional District.
The map also significantly changes the 2nd district, which contains St. Louis County, held by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner. Senate Leadership said they hope that change makes it more Republican.
Another change, Jefferson Couty would move from the 3rd district to the 8th district, which stretches down to the Popular Bluff, all the way to Branson. Franklin County also would be split in two. The county currently resides in all of the 3rd district, but under the Senate version is in the 2nd and the 3rd.
The Senate version also preserves U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s Democratic district in the Kansas City area, which at the start of debate months ago, was a point of concern for the Democrats.
Sen. Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis) voted against the Senate’s map last week but said it’s the best map the Senate could have drawn.
Another important matter is the $47 billion budget, the largest in Missouri’s history.
“Clearly, the House budget came over and left almost $2 billion on the table,” said Sen. Brian Williams (D-University City). “We have an opportunity to fix that and right that wrong. Our state should be in a better position than it was prior to COVID-19, and we have an opportunity to do that right now with the budget.”
The starting salary for teachers in the Show-Me State is $25,000, the lowest in the country and nearly 20% under the national average. During his State of the State, Gov. Mike Parson asked lawmakers to increase pay to $38,000 for new educators. The governor’s recommendation would have cost the state $21 million. Last week during the Senate budget committee, senators added an extra $10 million on top of his request after the House refused to fund the line item.
But will that cash stay in the budget? During a debate in the Senate this week, changes could be made.
“I learned a long time ago it’s not really pertinent for me to have priorities because it doesn’t end up happening most of the time,” Rowden said.
This proposal takes away the district’s responsibility to pay for part of the pay raise. With $31 million, the state has enough to fully fund the minimum wage of $38,000. Earlier this month, the House approved $37 million for the Career Ladder program, giving raises to experienced teachers. Under the state statute, teachers who take professional credits, mentor students, or participate in extracurricular activities fall under the program. The Senate also approved this line item, giving teachers another way to receive a pay raise.
Another part of the Senate’s version of the budget is spending $214 million to fully fund the transportation formula for the first time in years.
The Senate is also spending $10 million of the surplus on community colleges. Besides the increase, all higher education institutions received a 5.4% funding increase, along with additional money for their retirement plans.
Other budget items approved by the Senate committee, $2.4 million to fully fund the twice-daily Amtrak service that runs between St. Louis and Kansas City, known as the River Runner. The train was reduced to one trip a day back in January due to a lack of funding.
Within the public safety budget bill, $4.4 million is allocated for body cameras for the Missouri Capitol Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol. It also includes money for MSHP to buy a helicopter.
The session ends on May 13, but the budget must be on the governor’s desk one week before, May 6 by 6 p.m.