JEFFERSON CITY — The fight for $30 billion is in full swing.

Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Parson unveiled his proposed budget for the next year and sang its praises in his State of the State address.

The House and Senate are now writing their own budgets, but the governor’s plan provided the baseline for the next few months.

Here's what you need to know about where Columbia stands and what else is worth watching.

Mixed news for Mizzou

After scoring some solid gains last year, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi has his work cut out for him.

Two days before Parson gave his big speech, Choi went before a House committee to lay out his hopes for the next budget, including:


Another $10 million to help build a next-generation medical research center at MU
An $8.3 million boost tied to inflation to help chip away on maintenance projects
$9 million for five special projects focused on training people for high-demand jobs

Parson put enough money toward special projects to cover several in the UM System, including one on the Columbia campus that will teach people how to repair and maintain medical imaging equipment.

But Parson ignored the request for more maintenance funding and offered only $3 million for the research center, down from $10 million last year.

Choi didn't seem too upset in a statement to the news media, though.

“On behalf of the University of Missouri System, I’m extremely grateful for Gov. Mike Parson‘s support of public higher education and our four universities within the UM System,” Choi said. “The governor has shown through his words and actions that he is a fierce proponent of higher education and recognizes that Missouri’s future depends on having an educated, prepared workforce."

He mentioned the Precision Health Institute, but not the funding cut.

However, Capitol insiders were quick to point out that the cut could give Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, a chance to be a hero by restoring funding just before he stands for re-election in a swing district.

Whether by design or not, Rowden joined other local lawmakers in calling for a return to $10 million for the institute Thursday, according to the Columbia Missourian.

Other items of note in Parson's budget:

Raises for state employees

For the second straight year, state employees are in line for a raise.

Most of them got a 3 percent bump in the current year, and Parson’s budget for the coming year includes $26 million to cover a further 2 percent increase.

The administration also wants $5.1 million to cover incentives for top-performing state employees.

The idea, according to Parson’s budget priorities handout, is to encourage “above and beyond” performance, promote continuous improvement and improve accountability.

The $100 million question

The governor wants a new rainy day fund.

His budget would put $100 million into a special fund in case of recession or another emergency, backstopping it with money from online sales taxes pending in the legislature.

In his State of the State address, Parson said the savings account would give Missouri “greater flexibility and stronger finances than ever before.”

It’s not clear that’s all it’s for, though.

On one hand, state Auditor Nicole Galloway recently recommended doing something similar to help cushion the state in a recession.

On the other hand, there’s the prison guard lawsuit.

The state could be forced to pay corrections officers about $114 million if they come out on top in a legal battle over overtime pay. The prison guards have already won twice, and if the state can’t get the Missouri Supreme Court to reverse the losses, that money could come in handy.

In the meantime, though, look for Democrats like House Minority Leader Crystal Quade of Springfield to push for any extra money to go to schools or social services.

In a press conference after Parson’s State of the State address, Quade said online sales tax money should go to busing or a program to help low-income seniors pay for prescription drugs.

“When we have all of these things that we are not funding,” Quade said, "to take (online sales tax money) and direct it somewhere else … we will have these huge gaps that are still not restored.”

No mind-meld on revenue

Unlike last year, the governor's office couldn't agree with the House and Senate on how much money the state will have to spend in the next budget year.

Lawmakers have been mum on what exactly their differences are, but the disagreement means that when Parson's team sat down to write their budget, they may have used money that won't exist in the eyes of legislators.

Dan Haug, the governor's budget director, downplayed the differences in a meeting with reporters earlier this month, and Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Hageman, R-Cosby, did the same in a recent interview with St. Louis Public Radio.

Still, when it comes to the state budget, differing by even a tenth of a percentage point means disagreeing about whether millions of dollars will come in.

It remains to be seen whether time will iron that out.

Medicaid fight brewing

There’s also the billion-dollar elephant in the room.

The governor’s budget expects the cost of the state’s Medicaid program to rise by hundreds of millions of dollars this year, which is no surprise.

But in the coming years, that calculation could be scrambled by Medicaid expansion, which advocates are hoping to put on the ballot this year.

If they succeed, Missourians who meet certain criteria — single people making less than $18,000 a year, for example — could become eligible for state coverage.

The idea is to help people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid at current levels and too little to afford private health insurance. The federal government would foot 90 percent of the bill if the state covers the rest.

But most every Republican says the state can’t afford it. Parson said it would mean cuts to education and infrastructure.

“Make no mistake about it,” Parson said in his State of the State address, “the vague proposal they are not explaining or purposely withholding is a massive tax increase that Missourians cannot afford.”

Some analysts disagree.

A report from the Center for Health Economics and Policy at Washington University in St. Louis suggests the expansion could save the state $932 million by 2024 and could drive down costs by helping patients address problems before they become expensive emergencies.

A separate state analysis said the state government could expect an impact ranging from at least $200 million in increased costs to savings of $1 billion by 2026.

ahuguelet@news-leader.com