JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House approved $40 million in new spending to fight the coronavirus Wednesday, marking its first legislative action to address the crisis.
House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, described the plan to spend $33 million in federal money and $7 million in state money through June 30 as a reasonable first step toward confronting the pandemic.
Smith said the authorization would, among other things, help the state boost testing for the virus and procure protective gear for those on the front lines. He said more money could also be authorized in the future if necessary.
"It is my opinion that this is an appropriate, steady measure to take at this point," he said.
House Democrats pushed for far more.
They proposed amendments that would have authorized more than $100 million in state money for the response.
They didn’t get very far with the Republican supermajority, though.
Smith said their plans would divert money from core government functions, throw the current year’s budget “out of whack” and amount to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
And when Democrats challenged him on his $40 million amount, he said that based on what he understood from the Parson administration, that money will be “adequate to accomplish what they're projecting the needs of the state will be as far as the state government being able to meet those needs at this time.”
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, blasted that as a failure of leadership.
"Since this started,” she said, “I've heard nothing but 'We need to wait,’ and ‘Let's have someone else deal with it.’
She noted that Republican-led states Arizona and Georgia weren’t taking that approach and spending $55 million and $100 million of their own money to fight the virus.
“Missouri is always the last to do things,” she said. “This is not the time to wait."
Republicans nevertheless rejected her amendment sending $20 million in federal poverty assistance money to local health departments.
Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, had no better luck with a similar attempt to send $86.8 million to health care providers to build up their infrastructure for the epidemic.
And Smith didn’t take kindly to suggestions his caucus is sitting idly by with trouble looming.
“$40 million in taxpayer dollars that could be spent over a period of 4 months is not doing nothing,” he said.
The legislation still needs approval from the Senate, which is set to be in recess until March 30.
The new spending came as the state learned of its first recorded death related to the coronavirus in Boone County. Gov. Mike Parson said the state has 24 confirmed cases as of Wednesday evening.
Austin Huguelet is the News-Leader's politics reporter. Got something he should know? Call him at 417-403-8096 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.