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Schools, colleges spared in stripped down Missouri budget

Missouri lawmakers have passed a stripped-down budget for the upcoming fiscal year amid a steep drop in revenues because of the havoc the coronavirus has wreaked on the economy.

Lawmakers managed to spare public K-12 schools and colleges and universities from major cuts in the final version of the budget. But spending for many new government programs is gone, and state agencies face close to $160 million in core budget cuts.

It’s unclear if $700 million in planned cuts to the original budget draft will even be enough, said Sen. Dan Hegeman, the Senate’s budget leader. He told senators he expects lawmakers to be called back to work later this year to make adjustments.

Revenues were down 6 percent so far this year compared to the same time last year, according to April data. In that month alone, net revenue collections dropped more than 54 percent compared to April 2019.

The more than $35 billion budget includes $14.7 billion in federal funding as Congress tries to help states cope with the coronavirus and its aftermath.

Lawmakers are relying on enough federal dollars coming in to avoid cutting state aid to four-year public universities. If that funding doesn’t pan out, colleges and universities face a 10 percent cut in state aid.

Community colleges will get the same amount of money next year as they did this year, regardless of federal funding.

The next fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget also sets aside $30 million in federal funding for grants to help small businesses stay afloat in the wake of COVID-19. Another $20 million will go to support struggling meat processing plants.

Lawmakers dropped a Senate proposal that would have increased the number of pull-tabs — video lottery vending machines — from 500 to 600 and allowed them in truck stops.

Lawmakers returned to work on the budget last week after several weeks off over concerns about spreading COVID-19 in the usually crowded Capitol.

Gov. Mike Parson can veto spending on specific programs, and lawmakers can try to overrule those vetoes during a short September legislative session.

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