by Rudi Keller, Missouri Independent
The Missouri Senate on Tuesday night fell into an intramural fight among Republicans over whether to use the budget to put limits on diversity, equity and inclusion programs in state government.
The heated argument continued over nearly six hours before a bipartisan vote defeated an amendment from Sen. Denny Hoskins that would have banned diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives in funding for public schools.
After the defeat, several Republicans voiced opposition to budget increases for the coming year, arguing that it was a violation of conservative principles. But only one attempt was made to cut any funding. That defeated amendment targeted $50 million for stadium improvements in Kansas City in advance of the 2026 FIFA World Cup matches.
When it was over, the fiscal 2024 operating budget went back to the Missouri House with only minor changes from the $49.9 billion proposal approved last week by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Senate wrapped up the debate at about 4 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Work on all budget bills must be completed by May 5.
Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, first tried to impose a blanket ban on state departments using appropriated funds for the diversity programs. Hoskins’ proposal was a narrower version of language added in the House to every budget bill that state agencies warned would interfere with purchasing, contracts and payments for medical services.
His supporters, mainly from the disbanded conservative caucus, argued that fealty to the state Republican Party platform demanded they back Hoskins’ amendment.
“The consequences to the members of this chamber will be permanent damage,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring and a likely candidate for governor in 2024.
Other GOP senators said they were more concerned about functional public services than party ideology.
“This will keep people on Facebook happy, but I don’t know what it will do to state government,” said Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit.
Hoskins’ amendment was ruled out of order by Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia. The language had no place in an appropriations bill, Rowden ruled, because the Missouri Supreme Court had made clear that substantive policy questions cannot be settled in an annual appropriation bill.
“This is designed to set policy, not to spend a specific amount of money,” Rowden said.
The next attempt was to place even narrower language in the budget line allocating $4 billion to support public schools.
Democrats, who had remained silent throughout the earlier debate, denounced the renewed effort. Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo of Independence said the amendment was the latest right-wing outrage demanding the attention of lawmakers. Another similar issue this year is the debate over gender-affirming treatments for minors and participation in sports based on gender.
“Next year there will be another acronym that is the scariest thing in the world and if we don’t do it now the sky will fall,” Rizzo said.
And Black senators said they were personally offended by the attempts to limit programs encouraging diversity and inclusion.
“You have embedded the structural, systematic discriminatory racism in the policies and laws of this country,” Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said. “And yet, you want to say we don’t need diversity, equity and inclusion. I mean, you can’t make this up.”
Hoskins’ amendment was defeated on a 14-18, with nine Republicans joining the nine Democrats present in opposition.
The next step in the budget process will be House-Senate negotiations over the vast differences between the chambers. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee will hold hearings on four bills setting the state construction budget for the coming year.
The Senate operating plan spends almost $4.3 billion more than the House from all funding sources and $3 billion more from the general revenue fund. One large item, in the construction budget in the House and the operating budget in the Senate, is funding to widen Interstate 70.
The House funded Gov. Mike Parson’s $859 million plan to widen three stretches totaling 55 miles, plus $180 million more for other road projects. The Senate plan incorporates Appropriations Committee Chairman Lincoln Hough’s proposal to spend $2.8 billion on I-70, with $1.4 billion from general revenue surplus funds and $1.4 billion from bond debt.
Other major Senate additions to the budget include:
“There were billions of dollars worth of asks that the committee did not approve, either for members of the committee or others here,” he said.
The question as the budget goes to negotiations isn’t whether the state can afford any of the budget items but whether House and Senate members can agree on any particular item.
The revenue estimate made in December anticipated significant slowing of the double-digit growth in tax receipts experienced since 2021. Parson’s budget projected a $4.9 billion general surplus on June 30 and, if revenue and spending matched his proposal, a $3.8 billion surplus at the end of fiscal 2024.
However, revenues have remained higher than anticipated, though slower than recent history. Through Tuesday, general revenue growth for the fiscal year is 8.2%, which would add about $880 million to the surplus if sustained to June 30.
Budget officials acknowledge that the December estimate is low but have not released revised figures.
The operating budget passed by the House would spend about $600 million less than estimated revenue in the coming year, while the Senate budget would exceed it by about $1.9 billion.
The most bipartisan vote during the budget debate came when Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Cassville, tried to use the budget to block a landfill project near Kansas City. He proposed a $200,000 amendment to study the wide ranging environmental and economic impacts of the project that would also have barred any landfill construction during the study.
“I would hope the body would support an environmental study to potentially protect my constituents from a harmful sort of endeavor coming into my community,” Brattin said.
Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, said the amendment wasn’t based on an objective reason to oppose the landfill. She reminded Brattin that she is on a committee that heard his bill to block construction.
“All of the testimony was ‘NIMBY, not in my back yard, I don’t want this here, it is impacting me,’” Coleman said.
That wasn’t good enough, she said.
“For the rest of the body,” Coleman said, “it is imperative we evaluate policy based on the impact to the state and not on one single district.”
The Senate was evenly split on the roll-call vote, with 11 Republicans joined by four Democrats in support and 11 Republicans joined by four Democrats in opposition, defeating the amendment on a tie.
Senate Democratic Leader John Rizzo of Independence speaks Tuesday during debate on the state budget. Rizzo said annual cultural fights with Republicans were “exhausting” and “predictable” (Rudi Keller/Missouri Independent).