Missouri Legislature passes $26 billion spending plan

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers passed a $26 billion budget plan on Thursday for the next fiscal year that would increase basic aid for K-12 public schools while holding spending for social services stagnant – a sticking point that garnered criticism from lawmakers concerned it could hurt services for low-income families and others.

Passing all 13 bills to outline funding for the state budget – which House Speaker John Diehl said includes a $90 million surplus – means the Republican-controlled Legislature could have the opportunity to override potential vetoes by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on specific programs before the legislative session ends May 15. Lead budget writer Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he believes lawmakers could override Nixon’s vetoes with a simple majority instead of the two-thirds needed after the session ends.

The governor could also wait until after the session to announce spending restrictions for particular programs.

Nixon said in a statement that a “careful, line-by-line review” of the budget still is needed, but thanked lawmakers for “answering my call to make responsible investments in K-12 classrooms, college affordability and mental health.”

Major highlights include $3.2 billion in basic aid for K-12 public schools, up more than $84 million from this year but still far short of the $482 million increase needed to provide the full amount called for under a 2005 state law. Public universities and colleges are set to receive $12 million more in performance-based funding, a 1.3 percent increase.

Tensions over social services spending threatened to derail the agency’s budget passage this year when the Senate initially voted against approving that spending plan. At issue was an expansion of the state’s managed care program, which contracts with private companies that in turn manage Medicaid patients’ health care.

About 440,000 Missourians were enrolled in managed care as of March, according to the Department of Social Services. About 233,000 would be added under the expansion.

Supporters, including Schaefer, say it saves money and is efficient. Opponents have questioned that and say it also leads to lower-quality care.

“Welcome to the world of old ideas and outdated models,” Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, said. “It’s rationed health care.”

Progress on the budget was further delayed as Schaefer and other lead negotiators hashed out sweeping differences between the two chambers on the Social Services, Mental Health and Health and Senior Services departments’ budgets behind closed doors.

Schaefer had proposed granting those departments a chunk of money rather that specifying funding for individual programs and services, an effort aimed at forcing those agencies to reduce spending.

A compromise between the House and Senate instead allots money based on individual programs and services – the traditional way of budgeting – but includes less money for those departments than originally recommended by the House.

Mental health is set to receive roughly $730 million in general revenue next fiscal year, about $14 million less than the House proposed but still about $25 million more compared with this fiscal year. The plan includes almost $331 million for the health department, up from $286 million this year but roughly $5 million less than House members suggested.

The $8.6 billion budget for the Social Services Department remains the largest of all agencies. Its total includes $1.5 billion in general revenues, with about $555,000 less in proposed spending compared with this year.

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Source: Associated Press