Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

House Democrats say appointees for budget conference committees break precedent

The Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Jefferson City.

Members of the Missouri House and Senate are set to begin negotiations Wednesday morning over the upcoming state operating budget, but the makeup of the conference committees is being questioned by some Democrats.

There is currently a $4.2 billion difference between the chambers’ proposed budgets, with the Senate spending more money. The operating budget total, which sits at nearly $50 billion, is likely to change through the conference committee process.

House Democrats say some of the lawmakers chosen from their party to serve on the conference committees were not who they wanted.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said it isn’t uncommon for the speaker of the House to not take the minority leader’s recommendations when it comes to conference committees on non-budget bills. The budget is usually a different story.

“I have been in the legislature for seven years, and this is definitely the first time that the speaker did not take the minority leader’s recommendations on the budget conference committees,” Quade said.

In his selections for budget conference committees, Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, picked Republicans who all served on the House Budget Committee but did not do the same for Democrats.

Plocher did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In his initial selections for the committee, Plocher chose two Democrats, Rep. Mark Sharp of Kansas City and Gretchen Bangert of Florissant, who do not serve on the House Budget Committee.

He also picked Rep. Anthony Ealy, D-Grandview, who does serve on the committee but is in his first year as a legislator.

The speaker later removed both Ealy and Sharp and replaced them with Democrats who are on the Budget Committee but kept Bangert, who is on the conference committee on House Bill 2, which funds K-12 education and is the second-costliest operating budget bill.

“I think it just goes again to show that the speaker is just trying to power grab and doesn't exactly know what he's doing,” Quade said.

Another difference in committee makeup compared to last year is the absence of the ranking minority member on the House budget committee, Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis.

Last year, Merideth served on all 13 of the conference operating budget committees; this year he is not on five of them. Merideth said that differs from what House Democrats requested, which was that he be on all but two of them.

“I think that we wanted to have a couple of other members on a couple of them, but for the most part, I was going to be on all of them,” Merideth said.

Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, the House Budget chair, deferred to Plocher on why certain members were chosen but said it isn’t unheard of for the ranking member to not be on all the bills.

“It's my recollection that he's traditionally not been on all of them. So how they assign those conferees, I'd have to direct you to them for comment,” Smith said.

Smith also said while the speaker makes the appointments, he does provide input on the Republican side if asked.

While Merideth did serve as a conferee on all the budget bills last year, he did not the year before.

Despite Democrats not getting all of their requested picks, Merideth said he’s confident in all of their members who are on the committees.

“I think they're all capable of doing this and doing the job they were sent here to do, and we'll be ready to support them in all of their work in whatever they need in dealing with these conferences,” Merideth said.

Lawmakers have until Friday to send the budget to the governor’s office.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is a first year graduate student at the University of Missouri studying public affairs reporting. She spent her undergraduate days as a radio/television major and reported for KBIA. In addition to reporting shifts, Sarah also hosted KBIA’s weekly education show Exam, was an afternoon newscaster and worked on the True/False podcast. Growing up, Sarah listened to episodes of Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me! with her parents during long car rides. It’s safe to say she was destined to end up in public radio.