$26.4 billion
9:48 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Legislature Sends FY2015 Budget To Gov. Nixon, Touts Education Spending

Credit Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

House and Senate members have sent the remainder of the bills that make up Missouri's state budget to Gov. Jay Nixon.

The roughly $26.4 billion spending plan increases higher education spending by 5 percent and adds $114.8 million for K-12 schools, which House Republicans called "historic."

"It almost eliminates our (need for) hold-harmless schools ... if extra money comes in it will totally eliminate all the hold-harmless schools," said State Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville.  "This body gets accused a lot of picking on education (and) of not fully funding the (K-12) formula ... this is a very good effort, the best we could do."

Critics, including State Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said it wasn't good enough because public schools in Missouri are still underfunded by $600 million.

"We have a crisis on our hands, and that crisis deals with provisionally (accredited) and unaccredited schools, basically, children who live in poverty," McNeil said. "We need to be getting early childhood education, really, to everyone who wants it ... (but) at the minimum we should be getting early childhood education to our provisional and unaccredited districts so that they have a chance to get back on track."

Republican leaders made a notable about-face from what their predecessors did in 2005, when deep Medicaid cuts were made and then signed into law by former Gov. Matt Blunt.  This year's budget restores several Medicaid benefits, including physical, occupational and speech therapies and dental services.

"We took existing Medicaid dollars ... and better directed them to existing Medicaid eligible recipients," said State Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country. "(They) are those, who in my opinion, are in need of significant services and better ways of staying and even gaining back (good) health."

The Department of Social Services, which oversees the bulk of Medicaid spending, also got a $50 million boost from last week's tobacco settlement refund.

"It was a natural place to put it," said House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood.  "We put it in the pharmacy line (item)."

Democrats continued to lament the fact that their Republican colleagues still refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility.

"I do believe, though, one day the General Assembly will wise up, and will rise up, and we will vote for Medicaid expansion," said State Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City.  "I just wished it were sooner than later."

But it was a Republican House Member who made the biggest splash on that topic: State Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Independence, sponsors one of two alternate Medicaid expansion proposals that would also mandate reforms in Missouri's Medicaid system.

"Mitch Daniels, (GOP governor) of Indiana, pushed the poverty level up to 200 percent, Rick Perry of Texas (up to) 185 percent, (former) Gov. Blunt from this state suggested 185 percent -- we're simply trying to just get it to 100 percent," Torpey said. "Whether you think the Affordable Care Act is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or you think it's a train wreck, it's the law of the land -- we in Missouri have the chance to make a bad law a little bit better, and I hope in the future we will take that opportunity to actually act on that and make a poor law better."

Democrats on the House floor applauded Torpey when he finished his comments.

The Missouri House spent more than four hours debating next year's state budget as they voted and passed the 12 remaining budget bills.  The Senate waited for each budget bill to come over from the House, and passed most of them with little or no debate.  House Bill 2001, meanwhile, was sent to Gov. Nixon last month; it covers commissions that handle state bonds.

Lawmakers also provided first-year bonding for a new state mental hospital at Fulton in HB 2005, and added $6 million to HB 2013 to renovate the old St. Mary's hospital in downtown Jefferson City. The nearly 110-year-old hospital is set to become state property when St. Mary's relocates to a brand new building later this year. The Columbia Tribune reported recently that there are tentative plans to use the old St. Mary's building as a new home for MoDOT.

Nixon, a Democrat, is expected to sign the state budget into law in mid or late June, before the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport