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Greitens cuts spending for higher education and healthcare, blocks St. Louis’ minimum wage

Gov. Eric Greitens speaks during a news conference after the end of the 2017 legislative session. Greitens used this opportunity to compare lawmakers to third graders for not passing enough bills.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
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Just hours before Missouri’s new fiscal year begins, Gov. Eric Greitens on Friday announced that he was trimming more than $250 million in budgeted state spending, concerned that the state’s income would not cover all of legislators’ allocations.

Most of the trims, called “withholds,” are temporary and could be restored if the state’s finances improve. They largely affect dozens of programs in the state’s departments of health, social services and higher education.  For example, Greitens is withholding $60 million of the state’s share of Medicaid spending but predicts the money likely won’t be needed to match the federal portion of the Medicaid spending.

His withholds also include about 9 percent of the money allocated for higher education.
The state’s budget for the fiscal year beginning Saturday totals $27.8 billion. But the governor and legislators primarily control only about one third of that, for most state agencies and spending.

Greitens’ sole budget veto was of a bill that had collected about $35 million in unspent money from various state agencies to cover the cost of an existing  program that provided home care services for about 8,000 senior citizens and people with disabilities. The governor called the funding plan a “one-time gimmick’’ that threatened other state programs. The home-care cuts appear to now go into effect.

“I won't sign an unconstitutional, one-time, fake fix to a real problem,” Greitens said.

State Rep. Deb Lavender, a Democrat from Kirkwood who crafted the $35 million effort to protect the services, decried the governor’s action. She said it  “will cost Missouri taxpayers more as people receiving these services will turn towards emergency rooms for the care they are no longer receiving and end up in nursing homes sooner than they would have if community-based services were left in place.”  

However, Greitens did sign a bill extending a program that helps low-income people -- primarily elderly -- pay for their prescription drugs. The program had been slated to expire in August. Greitens’ action continues the aid until 2022.

On several non-budget measures, the governor:

  • Signed a bill that will make it harder for workers to sue for discrimination in the workplace. Business groups had sought the bill, saying state law made it too easy to sue. Opponents — including the NAACP and women’s groups — said the bill will make it more difficult to sue for racial discrimination or sexual harassment and could allow retaliation against whistleblowers.

 

  • Announced he would let a bill overturning St. Louis’ minimum wage increase to go into effect without his signature. The city’s minimum wage rose to $10 an hour in May, and had been slated to rise to $11 an hour by 2018. The state’s minimum wage is $7.70 an hour.

In his budget announcement, Greitens pointed to various programs he was protecting or expanding. Those efforts will:

  • Boost spending for public education (kindergarten through high school) by more than $133 million

 

  • Earmark $6 million for the governor's rural school broadband program;

 

  • Provide $12 million in additional money for Early Childhood Special Education;

 

  • Direct $12 million to help address opioid addiction in Missouri.

 
Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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