- Associated Press - Monday, April 27, 2020

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - A top Missouri House lawmaker on Monday moved to trim $700 million from the state’s proposed budget as revenues drop because of the coronavirus.

Lawmakers returned to the Capitol Monday in a hurried attempt to pass a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. They face a May 8 constitutional deadline, a tight turnaround as lawmakers have been off work for weeks over concerns about spreading COVID-19.

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith during floor debate recommended $700 million in cuts to fellow Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s original $30 billion budget plan, which the governor crafted based on rosier revenue projections before the coronavirus hit the state.

State coffers have already felt the impact of the virus. Net general revenue collections for March, the latest month of available data, dropped 4.2% compared to March 2019.

Smith said most of the cuts he’s proposing, about $454 million, would be to new government programs and wouldn’t impact existing services. But he said another $146 million would be stripped from core agency budgets.

Smith’s plan includes a 10% cut in state funding for colleges and universities, as well as about $7 million less for K-12 school busing.

The budget proposal debated Monday also would give Parson’s administration the authority to spend billions of dollars in federal funding on public schools, colleges and other government agencies.

But it’s unclear exactly when, and how much, federal dollars Missouri will ultimately get over the next year to fight COVID-19 and restart the economy.

Even if lawmakers pass a budget by their deadline, Smith said it’s likely that they will have to return later this year to make adjustments as more information comes in about state revenue projections and federal aid.

Democrats raised concerns about rushing to pass the budget when they could return for a special session closer to the start of the next fiscal year, July 1. Democratic House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said they might know more about state finances if they wait.

“I just can’t understand why we’re here,” Quade said. “Why don’t we just wait a few more weeks?”

Smith’s plan still needs approval from the full House before it can move to the Senate.

House members gathered to work on the budget days before the governor’s statewide stay-at-home is set to expire Sunday. Parson has said he’s OK with them meeting as long as they follow social distancing guidelines.

Many lawmakers wore face masks, but not all did. Some sat at desks next to each other or huddled for personal conversations on the floor, while others listened to debate from their offices rather than gathering in the 163-seat House chamber.

Only one lawmaker so far has reported testing positive for COVID-19: Kansas City-area Rep. Joe Runions. He was hospitalized for the virus in mid-May but is now recovering.

Visitors can go to the Capitol to watch lawmakers work in person, but they’ll have their temperatures checked and will be asked questions to screen for recent exposure to coronavirus.

House debate will also be livestreamed.

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