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The Missouri Senate approved a $20.8 billion dollar budget Wednesday. KSMU's Missy Shelton reports from Jefferson City.
Unlike recent years when funding cuts prompted heated debate and near-party line votes on the budget bills, this year, the senate approved the budget with near-unanimous votes and comparatively less debate.
Among the issues that surfaced early in the debate was funding for public schools.
The bill begins phasing in the new education funding formula, which directs state aid to school districts.
Democrat Chuck Graham wondered if this year's education budget would be enough to stop a lawsuit by some school districts, which claims state funding is inadequate and inequitable.
Graham asked Republican Gary Nodler who chairs the Senate Education Committee whether he thought the budget would stop the lawsuit and whether it would calm the fears of districts that worry the state won't fully fund the new formula.
Besides education funding, lawmakers also debated the right approach to increasing the pay of state workers.
Republican Governor Matt Blunt proposed a 4 percent increase for most workers, including upper level management and department directors.
Democratic Floor Leader Maida Coleman offered an amendment that would've changed the raise from an across the board increase to a flat amount.
The chairman of the budget committee, Republican Senator Chuck Gross said he was sympathetic to those concerns.
In the end, the senate stayed with the 4 percent increase for most workers...lawmakers, judges and elected statewide officials are excluded from that.
The budget bills for the department of social services and public health normally draw lengthy debate. But this time they passed with relatively little discussion. Though Democratic Senator Joan Bray did raise concerns about the lack of funding for women's health services.
Now that the Senate and the House have approved the budget, lawmakers from both chambers will meet in conference committee to work out their differences.
One of the biggest unresolved issues for the legislature is what to do with the anticipated revenue from the sale of some MOHELA assets. The Senate budget contains a plan similar to the one Governor Blunt unveiled earlier this year. The House budget contains a different plan and the House budget committee on Tuesday endorsed a third plan for spending the MOHELA proceeds.
Lawmakers have until May 5th to finish their work on the budget.