While the special legislative session Gov. Mike Parson called to promote a tough-on-crime image heading into the fall elections officially will start July 27, the real work of the session won’t begin until after the Aug. 4 party primary elections, according to tentative schedules released by Republican legislative leaders.
The full Senate plans to convene on July 27, but the full chamber won’t meet again until the day after the primaries. As has been its special session practice for nearly 20 years, the House of Representatives will just hold a sparsely attended procedural session on the first day. The Senate plans to take up the session’s legislation upon its Aug. 5 return and advance it to the House soon thereafter. The House isn’t scheduled to fully reconvene until Aug. 12.
In announcing the special session on July 15, Parson said “protecting our citizens and upholding the laws of our state are of utmost importance to my administration.” However, when House Democrats asked Parson, a Republican, to call a special session last summer on gun violence prevention, he refused, saying the issue could wait.
None of the proposed legislation Parson included in his special session call would prevent violent crimes but instead address court procedures and sentencing after a crime has been committed. Under the Missouri Constitution, the governor controls what topics lawmakers can consider during a special session.
In addition to excluding legislation on violent crime prevention, Parson also chose not to include proposals to address police brutality and improve law enforcement accountability in his special session call, despite months of protests around Missouri over the issue and repeated requests from members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus that he take leadership on the issue. As he did with last year’s request for a special session on violent crime, Parson said the issue should wait for another time.
Not on the Agenda: Budget Solutions
As state revenues continue to fall short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and in an effort to balance the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget, Governor Parson unilaterally withheld $448.85 million in spending authority and issued 17 line-item vetoes of another $11 million. FYI - the 2021 fiscal year runs from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.
If state revenue collections improve, Parson can release the withheld funds later on in the fiscal year. However, the line-item vetoes will stand unless the legislature votes to override the governor during our September veto session, which appears unlikely.
Since the Republican-controlled General Assembly in May had authorized far more general revenue spending than the state expects to collect this year, thus creating an unbalanced budget, we expected this hit to the FY 2021 budget. Gov. Parson's latest action on the FY 21 budget include;
- Slashing spending to the K-12 foundation formula by $123.3 million;
- Taking funds from higher education - $27.9 million from four-year institutions and $18.4 million from community colleges;
- Cutting social programs - $7.8 million from the Developmental Disability Community Program, $4.66 million from the Area Agencies on Aging, and $2.98 million from Sheltered Workshops;
- Reducing funds to the Bright Flight Scholarship Program by $6.4 million;
- Eliminating proposed raises for state employees; and
- Cutting 500 state jobs, mainly in mental health and social service agencies - 300 workers will be laid off and 200 vacant positions won't be filled.
Regarding the Parson's line-item vetoes of $11 million, the biggest cut at $5 million impacted the State Road Fund for maintenance and repair of low-volume highways. Other reductions included: $1.1 million for improvement, renovation, and maintenance of an airport owned by the University of Central Missouri and $1 million for the Harry S. Truman Library, In addition, the proposed 6-cent increase for mileage reimbursement was eliminated across many funds, departments, and agencies.
Keep in mind that Gov. Parson had already imposed a budgetary reduction of $432.9 million for the Fiscal Year 2020, which ended on June 30, 2020. These cuts primarily targeted elementary and secondary education at $133.35 million and higher education at $41.27 million. The bulk of the K-12 decrease in funding came from direct state funding to local public school districts.