Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced that he signed the state budget on Tuesday but is withholding $448.8 million in order to keep it balanced after the state’s economy was ravaged by the coronavirus.
The area hit hardest is K-12 education funding. According to the Office of Administration, $123.3 million will be withheld from the foundation formula. Higher education is expected to see the next-largest reduction in planned spending, with $27.9 million in withholds, and community colleges will see $18.4 million.
Parson emphasized that these decisions were difficult but necessary. He said the state is expected to be $1 billion below revenue projections his office made in January.
“Since I became governor, we spent more on public education than we have in the state’s history before this COVID-19 hit,” Parson said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “I just believe in the future if we work hard, we get the economy back going, we’ll get those education dollars back in there so we can move this state forward.”
In total, nearly 150 areas across state government will see a reduction in planned spending. Parson also vetoed 17 items totaling roughly $11 million, which is funding that cannot be restored, unlike withheld funds.
State budget director Dan Haug said this is “the most difficult budget” he has seen in the 25 years working on state budgets.
“Revenues declined much quicker and sharper during this downturn than even in the Great Recession,” he said.
Haug said that all areas of the budget were considered in deciding where money would be withheld and that almost all new spending was removed. He said putting these restrictions in place at the beginning of the year will allow departments to plan and prepare for cuts to their budget.
“We will monitor revenues throughout the year, and if we feel confident that revenues will finish the year above our current projections, we have the ability to release some of these restrictions,” Haug said.
The state’s roughly $35.3 billion budget was approved by lawmakers last month after a legislative session significantly shortened due to the pandemic. Democrats insisted the budget was unbalanced and over-appropriated.
“There will be a need for additional federal funds that are unrestricted in order for us to balance this budget and to ensure that we do not see significant withholds into the next fiscal year,” said Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, when the budget bills were passed.
State Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, disagreed with the assessment because much of the fiscal impact of the virus was still unknown.
“We’re working with the best information we have right now,” said Hegeman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. “There’s a lot of things up in the air. I feel very comfortable that we came in with a responsible budget with the information we have right now.”
Haug said the state is still looking at ways to use federal coronavirus relief funds “to invest in areas that are most critical” and will be using that funding “in the near future.” The federal money can’t be used to make up for budget shortfalls.
Coronavirus and the holiday weekend
Missouri continues to see an uptick in coronavirus cases. Surrounding states, also seeing a rise, are reinstituting some occupancy limits in stores and restaurants. Kansas is the most recent state to require using masks in public.
Despite parties at the Lake of the Ozarks making national news on Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Randall Williams, the state health director, said Tuesday that tougher restrictions aren’t necessary heading into the 4th of July weekend.
“Based on what we’re seeing at this moment in time, we think going into the weekend we don’t need to do that,” Williams said.
He said the state supports larger cities, such as St. Louis and Kansas City, keeping tougher restrictions in place, as they’ve seen a higher number of cases. But he said that all Missourians still need to be cautious.
“Fifty percent of people who get COVID-19 don’t know where they got it from, so if you think you can identify, the data would not support that,” Williams said. “So going into this weekend, even if you’re outside, we really, really would encourage social distancing.”
Parson said mandating masks in Missouri won’t happen. If people feel comfortable wearing one, they should, but he said it’s important to protect personal freedoms.
The governor plans to participate in 4th of July activities and will not wear a mask unless asked, but he said he will practice social distancing. Despite several new studies underscoring that face masks help prevent the spread of the disease, Parson said use of a mask has become “a political issue in the media.”