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SBJ Editor Eric Olson, left, interviews state Sen. Lincoln Hough via livestream. Hough discussed the budget process as the Senate and House plan to return April 27.
SBJ photo by Geoff Pickle
SBJ Editor Eric Olson, left, interviews state Sen. Lincoln Hough via livestream. Hough discussed the budget process as the Senate and House plan to return April 27.

Hough: Budget the priority when legislature reconvenes

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The Missouri General Assembly is slated to reconvene later this month, and when it does, the budget will be priority No. 1, said state Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield.

Hough this morning discussed the budget process and federal COVID-19 funding during Springfield Business Journal's monthly 12 People You Need to Know live interview series. The event was livestreamed via Facebook to comply with group gathering limits due to the coronavirus.

The Missouri Senate and House are scheduled to reconvene April 27, Hough said, and the deadline to approve a balanced budget is May 8. Legislators have been on an extended spring break, following coronavirus gathering restrictions since mid-March.

Hough said he's optimistic about the budget passing, even with the short timeline and the coronavirus pandemic's impact on state operations.

"The desire for meeting that constitutional deadline is there," he said. "Given the relationships that the House and Senate has, and our leadership and the House leadership making this a priority, I feel confident that we'll get it done."

Senators and representatives will be in for a balancing act when the session comes back online, Hough said, as they'll have to weigh potential revenue cuts and determine the areas of most need. The state also is receiving some $2.3 billion in COVID-19 federal funds by Friday, which would help to plug some budget holes, said Hough, who's also vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Around $6 billion in federal funds are slated to come to Missouri.

"It's a tight time frame," he said. "There's a lot of work that I think is probably starting now.

"We still have to be open to the public. You've got be transparent about this stuff."

Hough also is a member of a task force organized by Parson to determine where to best spend the federal funds. He said the group met last Friday and agreed to issue an initial $500 million to local communities.

Responding to a viewer question on the budget process, Hough said he would work to "prioritize the things that make the most difference in people's lives." Education is top of mind for him.

He said Missouri doesn't borrow money to fill budget gaps, so the state is looking to the federal funding "to backfill some of the lost general revenue in specific lines."

Among impacts to the budget is Gov. Mike Parson's recent announcement that the state's tax deadline was moved to July from April. Since the state's fiscal year ends June 30, Hough said that decision impacts the current budget and proceedings on the next spending plan.

However, he said tax revenues would shift into next year's budget.

Should the General Assembly not meet the May 8 deadline, Hough said there's precedent that would allow them to make a decision by session's end on May 15. If that doesn't happen, a special session would have to be called, he said.

"It's a strange environment," Hough said, pointing to the General Assembly’s extended break amid the coronavirus pandemic. "This is totally uncharted territory."

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