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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri’s budget for coming fiscal year crosses first hurdle, but many still to come

A hand distributing cash with a dialogue box.
Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers are getting out ahead of the constitutionally mandated deadline to have the state budget to Gov. Eric Greitens’ desk. The first step — a House committee passing all 13 bills making up the $27.6 billion budget that starts July 1 — was completed Tuesday night.

Even though Republican leaders' priorities match up with Greitens’ for the most part, it’s a long process and there’s sure to be debate over K-12 school funding. The House budget committee is seeking a $45 million increase, far more than the $3 million Greitens asked for.

“Overall, we’re spending less in state revenues than the governor (proposed),” House budget chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said. “Part of that is because we didn’t fund all the increase requests for Medicaid.”

Part of that Medicaid request is from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, which were banned last year from receiving money and will be in the 2018 Fiscal Year budget that’s headed to the House floor.

However, Department of Social Services’ acting director, Jennifer Tidball, said Tuesday that Planned Parenthood facilities that do not perform abortions — all but the one in St. Louis — are still eligible for state funding. That revelation came during debate over a failed amendment to reverse last year’s ban and allow the state to qualify for more federal matching dollars for Medicaid.

The Senate's budget writers also will have a say on how much education and social services get, though Rolla Republican Dan Brown, who chairs the Senate Appropriations committee, wouldn’t yet say what will be earmarked for K-12 schools.

“We will be somewhere between the $3 million and the $45 million, but we’re not going to fully fund the formula this year,” Brown said. “But we are planning to fund the (school) transportation categorical that the governor had cut.”

He added that a lot of the Senate’s spending decisions will depend on whether his chamber also votes to remove renters from a tax credit program for elderly and disabled resident; the House did so recently. He also said Missouri’s financial situation would improve if the state receives $50 million in tobacco settlement money, which the state Supreme Court recently ruled it’s owed.

“Between (the) tobacco money and $56 million from the circuit breaker, you’re talking about $106 million that’s a little bit in limbo,” Brown said.

Here’s a look at the other budget changes headed for House debate. All of the bills are scheduled to be taken up for first-round approval on April 4 and get a final vote April 6, after which they'll go to the Senate:

Public defender’s office

In a surprise move, lawmakers voted in favor of an amendment to transfer $6.8 million from the attorney general’s office to the Office of the Public Defender, which is underfunded and struggling with a large caseload.

The reason they did it? No one from the AG’s office showed up in time to argue against it.

“Sometimes that’s what happens when people aren’t here,” Fitzpatrick said, though he added it could be stripped when the budget goes before the full House next week.

Tracking the governor’s air travel

One amendment to the Department of Public Safety’s budget bill targets elected officials’ use of state-owned aircraft, which isn’t likely to please Greitens. Flights by the governor or any other elected official would have to be made public if using state-owned aircraft.

Greitens’ predecessor Jay Nixon recorded and posted to FlightAware.com the use of state aircraft during his second term, a practice Greitens stopped when he took office. Greitens also used a private jet in February owned by the parent company of the St. Joseph News-Press to fly to events in Springfield and Las Vegas, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“(It) provides ease of transparency when providing information to Missouri citizens,” said bill sponsor Rep. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat.

Some Republicans objected to Razer’s amendment, suggesting that criminals or terrorists could use the information to target flights.

“Anybody can find out,” said Republican Rep. Donna Lichtenegger of Jackson. “With the way things are nowadays, that is a public safety problem for our elected officials.”

Fitzpatrick disagreed: “Jay Nixon flew on state-owned airplanes over 200 times last year, and the department (of Public Safety) could not point to one single instance … to where there was even the resemblance of an issue.”

Voter ID funding

Republicans on the budget committee thwarted an attempt to de-fund Missouri’s new photo voter ID law, which was pushed by St. Louis Democrat Peter Merideth.

His amendment would have postponed implementation of the new law, which takes effect June 1, and shift the $1.4 million in Greitens’ budget to the state’s technology investing fund.

He told committee members that the state should be spending money on things that would create “significant amounts of money,” not on a law designed to make it harder to vote.

"They’ve provided help to more than a hundred start-ups in our state that have brought good jobs in emerging industries to Missouri,” he said. “I think the prudent move would be to wait on implementation (of voter ID), and instead spend this money on something that will grow our revenue for future years.”

Tax break for elderly renters

Democrats failed to restore $56 million in proposed funding for the elderly and disabled renters through a tax credit program commonly known as the “circuit breaker.”

The most notable amendment proposal was from Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, who wanted to shift money from various boards, including those for podiatry, accounting and chiropractors. But the amendment was defeated on a voice vote.

“We’re still expanding services to seniors,” Fitzpatrick said. “When you add up the additional money we’re going to be spending in home community-based services, plus the asset limit increase in Medicaid … we’re going to be giving seniors more money than we gave them last year.”

Krissy Lane contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

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