Conference Committee Begins Budget Debate

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JEFFERSON CITY - The conference committee tasked with sorting out differences in the state's budget proposals met Thursday morning, but only long enough to brief reporters on the latest developments.

Committee chair Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who also chairs the house budget committee, said the budget the house passed relied on a roughly $70 million tax amnesty provision which the senate has not yet taken up. The amnesty would forgive all penalties and interest on tax bills paid between Aug. 1 and Oct. 31. Silvey said he hopes the senate will pass the provision, but the committee will work under the assumption it won't pass.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said this year's budget, formed amidst a serious economic slowdown, is the best product possible under the circumstances.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, said she thought Schaefer's take was a fair assessment. She expressed disappointment the senate has not yet taken up the tax amnesty bill but said she was confident the committee would reach good compromises on the major sticking points, including funding for early child care and veterans' homes.

Silvey said a state program to cover blind people who aren't covered by Medicaid is unsustainable. He said he wanted to know why the blind get a blank check for benefits but people with other disabilities, such as paraplegia, don't. The house voted to eliminate the $28 million program in March, but the senate restored the program fully a month later.

The committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday.