With no federal aid in sight, Parson cuts $459M from FY2021 budget

Austin Huguelet
Springfield News-Leader
Today, Governor Mike Parson signed the FY21 budget bills passed by the General Assembly.

The cuts to the Fiscal Year 2021 budget, which takes effect Wednesday, largely mirror $430 million in cuts Parson made the current year’s budget in recent months.

And like those previous cuts, Tuesday’s fell hard on public schools, colleges and universities that receive a lot of state discretionary money.

K-12 schools are losing $123.3 million in benchmark state aid, a 3.5 percent cut, while four-year colleges are looking at nearly $100 million less than they were promised last year, a 12.5 percent cut. Community colleges are taking a similar-size haircut.

Parson spread cuts across other agencies too, though.

He froze $45.5 million slated for repairs and maintenance of state facilities, halted $10 million going into a fund for water infrastructure and cut $8.5 million out of the state tourism office, nearly half its budget.

Other casualties included proposed raises for state workers and around 500 positions, including roughly 300 state jobs, mostly in the Department of Social Services.

Parson also vetoed 6-cent increases in mileage reimbursement rates for a number of state agencies, $5 million for highways that don't see a lot of traffic and $1 million slated for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence.

“We left no agency, division or program out of our review,” Parson told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday.

Parson and his budget director, Dan Haug, indicated some of the restrictions announced Tuesday could potentially be temporary if state revenues exceed expectations.

“We are hopeful that the economy will rebound quickly and we can restore some of these funds,” Parson said.

Absent any improvement, though, hard-hit institutions could be faced with difficult decisions.

Missouri State University and Ozarks Technical Community College have already slowed down spending, suspended hiring and dipped into reserves to get through cuts in the last three months and avoid drastic cuts.

The University of Missouri system is already well past that, though. It's furloughed 3,000 employees and laid off more than 100,according to an online tracker.

What they’ll do next will likely depend on how enrollment looks in the fall, which could shift rapidly depending on the course of the pandemic.

Tuesday’s decision comes nearly two months after Republican lawmakers passed a version of the fiscal year 2021 budget fully funding K-12 education and keeping state aid to colleges level despite obvious headwinds.

When Democrats said the plan was out of balance, Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, dismissed their complaints as partisan nonsense.  

“The fact that they would seek to use a situation like the one that we are in to now understand and grab the mantle of fiscal responsibility, one that they have never grabbed in their entire lives, is unfortunate,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with the budget we have."

But two weeks later, Parson, a fellow Republican, was warning that withoutadditional aid from the federal government, he would be forced to take action to balance the budget himself.

State and local governments have received some federal money through the CARES Act passed in March, but that can only cover expenses directly related to the coronavirus fight. 

General budget shortfalls do not qualify.