Associated Press: Missouri Senate passes $27 billion spending plan

By Adam Aton
Thursday, April 7th, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – More money would go to public schools, universities and scholarships under a budget plan the Missouri Senate passed Thursday that would also cut state funding for Planned Parenthood.

The $27 billion spending plan, which now must be hashed out with a version the House passed last month, also boosts funding for prison guards, public defenders and health care providers. But despite the extra money for education and health care, senators from both parties cited fundamental issues with how the budget addresses those priorities.

Medicaid spending from the state’s general revenues, which surpassed $1.8 billion in the current budget, has increased by more than $360 million. That growth is unsustainable, the Senate’s lead budget writer, Republican Kurt Schaefer, said.

“We’re trying to slow this train down,” Schaefer said before Republicans rejected an effort by Democrats to leave the door open for further Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law.

Democrats also failed to strip budget provisions banning state money from going to Planned Parenthood for services such as pelvic exams and vaccinations. State law already prohibits public money from funding abortion.

Sen. Jill Schupp, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, said making it harder for low-income women to get birth control would only lead to more abortions.

“I think we all want to see abortions decreased,” she said. “This flies directly in the face of doing that.”

Democrats also tried eliminating a budget provision that requires universities to charge students living in the U.S. illegally an international tuition rate, which is often the highest tier of tuition. They were joined by Republican Sens. Gary Romine and David Pearce.

“These students aren’t going away. They’re not going back to a country where their parents came from. They’re here to stay,” said Pearce, who chairs the education committee. “Do we want them to be educated? Do we want them to be productive citizens? Or do we want to slam the door to higher education to them?”

Schaefer, who is also running for attorney general, urged lawmakers to uphold the measure.

Missouri’s colleges and universities would get a $55.8 million increase, a six percent boost that Gov. Jay Nixon has said will be enough to freeze tuition next year. The plan would codify that tuition freeze and prevent universities from raising mandatory fees that don’t pass a student vote, but if negotiations with the House produce lower funding, Schaefer said lawmakers would probably drop that provision.

The House spending plan calls for a smaller increase of $9.4 million, or 2 percent for all colleges except the University of Missouri System, which would instead see a cut of more than $8 million.

University officials have faced criticism for how they handled student protests last fall over administrators’ perceived indifference to racism, which ended with resignations from the system president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus. House lawmakers have said budget cuts are the only way to ensure the university improves the way it addresses student concerns.

Since then, Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said university administrators have helped diffuse tensions with the Legislature. “Cooler heads prevailed,” he said.

The Senate budget calls for a $1.5 million boost for Lincoln University, as well as $6.5 million more for need and merit-based scholarships.

Core K-12 education funding would also get about a $70 million boost – roughly $15 million less than the governor proposed, and about $440 million less than what it would take to fully fund public schools under the state’s foundation formula, the statutory guidelines on how much money schools should get from the state.

State employees would see a 2 percent pay raise, though elected officials would not. The Office of the Public Defender would see a $4.5 million increase to pay for 10 new employees. And $6 million was set aside for hazardous duty pay for Department of Corrections employees.

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