The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 6, 2012

Susan Redden: Differences remain before Missouri budget passes

By Susan Redden
Globe Staff Writer

JOPLIN, Mo. — There are literally hundreds of differences in the Senate and House versions of the $24 billion Missouri state operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year.

That’s according to Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, a member of the House and Senate conference committee that will work on ironing out those differences in a meeting today.

The procedure should be completed in a single meeting. At least that’s the hope of Flanigan, who is a member of the House Budget Committee and chairman of the Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services. More than one-third of the state’s budget is contained in House bills handled by his committee.

“We’ll be meeting in the Benton gallery,” Flanigan said, referring to a room where the walls are covered with murals by Neosho native Thomas Hart Benton.

“They don’t allow anyone to eat or drink in there, so there won’t be any distraction,” Flanigan said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to get it done in one day; we’ll go till we’re done.”

This is Flanigan’s second year on the conference committee.

All the work must be done by 6 p.m. Friday, when, by state law, the budget must be submitted to the governor. The fiscal year starts July 1.

“So, we have to agree on the changes, then write a report that we as a committee sign off on,” Flanigan said. “And the House and Senate have to accept it.”

Flanigan said he does not expect the work by the conference committee to be protracted because representatives of each body already are familiar with the positions on which they differ.

While it may not be protracted, it could be time-consuming.

“I think there’ll be about 300 different items to discuss, and we’ll go line-by-line,” Flanigan said.

One major difference between the two budgets is in the pay plan for state employees. Flanigan said many have not had a raise for several years.

A 2 percent pay hike has been proposed by each chamber, but the House wants it to go to workers who earn up to $70,000 per year; the Senate wants it limited to these with salaries of $45,000 or less.

The conference committee also will be looking at funding for veterans’ homes and services. Flanigan said he is concerned about proposals that would hurt public health programs, adding, “In smaller counties, that’s what funds public health.”

The committee chaired by Flanigan eliminated a subsidy for low-income Missourians who are blind, but that funding has been restored in the Senate version.

Flanigan said there is a difference of about $70 million between the budget approved in the Senate and that approved by the House. That’s about the same amount of money that would be produced by a tax amnesty bill Flanigan has sponsored for the past several years. The measure, which encourages the payment of back taxes, was passed by a unanimous vote in the House in March but did not advance beyond committee in the Senate. Flanigan said he is looking for other measures to which he can amend the proposal that would allow it to be passed before the legislative session ends May 18.

“There’s always a slim chance,” he said.

Susan Redden is a staff writer for the Globe. She can be reached at sredden@joplinglobe.com or 417-623-3480, ext. 7258.