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Blunt signs MO state budget into law

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Gov. Matt Blunt (UPI file photo)

By AP/KWMU

Jefferson City, MO – Governor Matt Blunt Thursday signed a $20.8 billion budget for the state of Missouri into law. It's the budget for the fiscal year that starts tomorrow (Saturday) and it includes more money for education, pay raises for state employees, and a large increase in state highway spending.

Blunt vetoed about $10 million in spending, mainly for items that lawmakers failed to pass separate bills for that authorize the programs.

One of the bills that failed this spring would have restored Medicaid service to several thousand working disabled. Blunt did not veto that money. He says lawmakers can vote to authorize that program when they return to Jefferson City in January, adding he has no plans to call a special session to achieve that before that time.

The new budget spents 8.6% more than the budget for the current fiscal year that ends at midnight. That's the largest budget increase from one year to the next since a 13.2% hike five years ago under then-Gov. Bob Holden.

Blunt had signed the budget bills for elementary and higher education last week. He signed the appropriations Thursday for the rest of state government, including for roads, prisons, mental health institutions and social services programs.

At nearly $6 billion, the Medicaid health care program for the poor remains the largest item in the budget even after Blunt and the Republican-led Legislature enacted cuts last year that have contributed to a 15% reduction in enrollees.

As passed by lawmakers, the 2007 budget would have funded the restoration of Medicaid services to several thousand working disabled Missourians whose coverage was reduced or eliminated last year. But because of a disagreement between the House and Senate on a Medicaid fraud bill, lawmakers failed to pass the legislation authorizing the re-creation of the program.

Some lawmakers, including Republicans and Democrats, have expressed a desire for Blunt to call a special legislative session to pass that authorizing legislation later this year. But Blunt reiterated Thursday he has no plans to do so, instead saying lawmakers can wait until January to do that.

Lawmakers are expected to undertake a wide-ranging overhaul of the state's Medicaid system next year. Blunt said that "new system is going to rely on personal responsibility and reward good behavior."

The budget that takes effect Saturday has about $5 billion for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, including a $128 million increase for the newly revamped formula that distributes money to K-12 schools. Colleges and universities will get a 2% increase.

The Missouri Department of Transportation will receive a record $2.6 billion, an increase of more than 50% over this year primarily because of growth in federal and state money for road construction. The budget also includes higher subsidies for the Amtrak passenger train service between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Most state employees will get a 4% pay raise, with larger increases going to nurses, law officers and corrections workers. Judges, lawmakers and elected state officials are excluded from the raises.

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