JEFFERSON CITY - After nearly nine hours of debate and the announcement of an additional $250 million in current budget year shortfalls, the Senate approved an $18.8 billion 2003 budget Thursday.
"We still have a long way to go on this budget," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit. "There's a lot of work yet to be done."
The nearly $260 million difference between the House and Senate budgets must now be reconciled in joint conference committee before May 10, the constitutional deadline set for state budget approval.
Most of the changes adopted on the Senate floor were recommendations made by the Senate Appropriations Committee, though today's budget announcement spurred additional debate about how to increase state revenue.
Although use of the State's so-called Rainy Day fund, reserved for use in times of crisis, was discussed, an ammendment that would have used the money to fund public education failed.
Contrary to prior commitments made by the leadership of both parties and the governor to fully fund the School Foundation Formula, Missouri's method for dispersing state funds to local schools, the Senate budget increases funding for K-12 education by $100 million, an amount that is $75 million less than the House.
"The easiest thing for us to say to our constituents is that we fully funded the foundation formula," said Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County. "But if you're a senator you have the ability to look at your own constituency and say no when you have to."
Although the Senate restored more than $500,000 in House cuts directed at University of Missouri owned NBC affiliate KOMU/Channel 8 for its post 9-11 ribbon policies, an ammendment offered by Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, upheld a $100,000 cut to the UM system previously approved by the House.
Loudon and other supporters of the ammendment cited their displeasure with the writings of UMKC professor Harris Mirkin, whose work on "intergenerational contact" has recently been criticized by state legislators as reason for the cuts.
In addition changes in education funding, the Senate debated the use of Intergovernmental Transfer money for state-run nursing homes. Although the Department of Social Services received more than $100 million in such funds last year, an ammendment that would once again provide the funding failed leaving nursing homes with $11 million under the Senate's proposal.
"If we don't do something to benefit the nursing homes of our state, we will literally be closing the door on our parents," said Sen. Dave Klarich, R-St. Louis County. Those responsible for the ammendment's failure say the funds were only meant for one-time use and not to be built into the Department's core budget.
Many senators say they were leaving for the weekend with a feeling of pride because of the Senate's bipartisan efforts, but some still expressed fears about the state's budget situation.
"I missed the prayer this morning, but I hope they said 'Dear God send money' because we could use some right now," said Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.