Missouri House passes $26.6 billion budget

St. Louis Post Dispatch

Thursday, March 27, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY • The $26.6 billion budget the Missouri House approved Thursday includes many increases for education but lacks Medicaid expansion.

For months, the difference in the Legislature’s revenue growth estimate — 4.2 percent — and the governor’s estimate — 5.2 percent — for the fiscal year that begins July 1 has been a point of contention.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, responded to this difference by creating a surplus revenue fund, where money would be funneled if revenue exceeds the Legislature’s estimate.

However, Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, denounced the Legislature for not going with the governor’s recommendation, calling its estimate “stingy.”

The House Budget Committee “chose to work with the wrong set of numbers,” McNeil said.

She said the decision was particularly detrimental to education in the state. The budget currently includes a $122 million increase for the Foundation Formula, which funds K-12 public schools. There is an additional $156 million available through the surplus revenue fund.

“This means that the ($156 million) will not be available for this (coming) school year,” McNeil said. Districts “can’t budget for something if they don’t know if they’ll receive it.”

Nixon recommended a $278 million increase for the Foundation Formula.

McNeil also objected to the budget’s inclusion of a 1 percent increase in state employee salaries for the coming year. Nixon recommended a 3 percent increase. McNeil said the Legislature’s number should be higher.

The budget also calls for a 1 percent cut in full-time state employees, which amounts to about 540 people.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, countered McNeil’s discussion about pay increases by saying the House had a duty to pass a balanced budget, which requires making tough choices.

“The governor brought us a budget based on pixie dust predictions and long-shot legislation,” Barnes said.

The absence of Medicaid expansion in the budget also sparked debate in the chamber, with Democrats highlighting what they say are potential problems without expansion.

Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town and Country, said Medicaid “is a big monster, and we’re working to control it and reform it.” In response, Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, pointed to 260,000 Missourians who would go without health care because they couldn’t afford it.

“One person’s big monster is another person’s lifesaver,” Schupp said.

The 13 bills that make up the budget now head to the Senate.

Earlier, Schupp attempted to compel House members to vote against appropriating $6 million for a state takeover of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.

The state can take over operation of the riverways only if the National Park Service relinquishes control — and if Gov. Jay Nixon’s revenue growth estimate proves true.

The state “neither has the money nor the staff to take care of the park adequately,” Schupp said. “To deprive (the park) of its national park status is doing a disservice to the people of the state and the nation.”

Schupp’s attempt failed, and the budget’s surplus revenue fund includes the money.

Republicans previously voiced concern about the federal government’s proposed management plan for the riverways, such as adding restrictions for motorboats, horseback riders and ATVs.

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