I have always bristled when individuals use the term “only” in describing of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Coming into government from a small business, I nearly fainted the first time I heard someone say, “It’s only half-a-million dollars.” From my perspective, there is no insignificant amount of state revenue because all of it should be used efficiently and purposefully.
The governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2020 is $29.7 billion dollars. This is a large amount of money, and it is often difficult to understand what composes the budget, how much discretionary spending is represented in this amount, and where the funding streams come from.
Missouri’s $29.7 billion budget can be broken down into three nearly equal categories: federal funds, which total $9.9 billion; general revenue, which totals $10.1 billion; and other funds, which total $9.7 billion.
As the name implies, federal funds come from the federal government for specific purposes. General revenue is composed primarily of individual income, sales, and use taxes, and these funds have the most flexibility of the three. Other funds include things like permit and licensing fees generated within the state of Missouri, and these funds must be spent in a specific manner.
Of the general revenue dollars Missouri brings in, approximately 34 percent ($3.4 billion) is devoted to elementary and secondary education while another 48 percent ($4.9 billion) goes to priorities such as providing state match to federal dollars. This leaves approximately $1.8 billion (roughly 6% of the state’s total budget) of purely discretionary spending.
Each January, the governor proposes a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and this proposal is the impetus for the work of the House Budget and the Senate Appropriations committees. These committees work throughout the legislative session to craft a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Missouri’s founding fathers, wisely and rightly, placed such significance on a balanced budget that passing one is the lone constitutional requirement for the legislature each year.
Unlike the federal government who can, and does, spend money it does not have, Missouri’s state government operates like Missourians own budgets: We cannot spend more than we have, and we must prioritize to maximize the effectiveness of what we spend. Accordingly, a great deal of discussion by appropriators revolves around the discretionary amount of general revenue.
I am fortunate to see a great deal of the day to day work that goes into crafting the state’s budget and have perspective from having served as a member of the appropriations committee. Like many of you, I also have specific areas and line-items, relating to the responsibilities of the Lieutenant Governor’s office, that I’m interested in, two examples of which are certified nursing assistant increases at Missouri’s veterans homes and funding for tourism.
Missouri’s seven veterans homes provide quality, long-term skilled nursing to Missouri’s heroes. In recent years, homes have had a difficult time keeping quality nurse assistants due to the inherent challenges of the job and wages that are stuck below the market rate.
The St. Louis veterans home was used as a pilot project to determine the effect of targeted raises to CNAs on turnover and the quality of care. The results of the pilot project were overwhelmingly positive, and the Veterans Commission’s budget includes funding to mirror targeted CNA raises at the remaining six homes. Missouri’s heroes deserve the best care possible, and these raises will help retain the good employees that are critical to providing excellent care.
Tourism is Missouri’s second largest industry, behind agriculture, and is ripe for continued growth with the addition of creative and effective marketing. Most Missourians, and most Americans, are familiar with the very successful branding of “Pure Michigan” and Kentucky’s “Unbridled Spirit.”
Fortunately, Missouri has much to sell, and the $17 billion impact of tourism on the state’s economy has tremendous potential for growth. There are currently more than 301,000 Missourians employed in the tourism industry, and their work helped to bring more than 42 million visitors to the state in 2018 alone. Restoring past cuts to the Division of Tourism and the Tourism Commission will help Missouri become even more of a go-to destination.
Budgeting, on any level, is a reflection of priorities. $29.7 billion will always be a large amount of money. All the more so when it’s your money the state of Missouri is spending. It deserves thoughtful consideration in its allocation and diligent oversight in its expenditure. The men and women crafting the 2020 budget understand the magnitude and the significance of their work, and I am grateful for their efforts.