UPDATE: Missouri House passes $26 billion state spending plan

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposed state budget passed Thursday by the Missouri House would increase education spending but provide no money to expand Medicaid eligibility or give state employees a pay raise.

The more than $26 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 now moves to the Senate.

Expansion for Medicaid eligibility, though not included in the budget, dominated debate between the Republican supermajority and Democrats.

GOP House and Senate leaders repeatedly rejected calls from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and members of his party to expand Medicaid eligibility to as many as 300,000 low-income adults under the terms of President Barack Obama’s health care law. An expansion could bring Missouri about $2 billion annually of additional federal Medicaid funding.

But Republican lawmakers haven’t “taken the bait,” said Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. He said expanding Medicaid could cost the state more money once full federal funding of the program stops in 2016 and states are responsible for paying for a portion of the expenses, eventually 10 percent.

“I don’t think we’re being honest with ourselves when we sit here and talk about how it will generate all this additional money and savings,” Fitzpatrick said.

Even without an expansion, the proposed budget includes $9.5 billion in total Medicaid spending for next year, an increase from $9.3 billion in the current budget. More than 890,000 Missouri residents were enrolled in Medicaid as of February.

Democrats contended that a Medicaid expansion could have freed up more money to go to the school foundation formula and performance funding for state colleges and universities.

The proposed budget includes a more than $74 million increase to the nearly $3.2 billion that is provided to K-12 schools through a funding formula. But that’s still far short of the $482 million increase needed to provide full funding.

Republicans defended their school budget by noting it’s larger than the $50 million increase recommended by Nixon during his State of the State address in January. The state budget director has called Nixon’s earlier budget proposal “modest,” given lagging tax revenues.

Lawmakers were silent on the floor Thursday on a pay raise for state employees, which is not included in the spending proposal. And despite an appeal from Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who earlier said he’s facing “gradual impoverishment” with his roughly $86,000 salary, the House did not grant him a daily expense allowance for working in the Capitol.

The House budget bills include nominal bumps in funding for the Teach for America and Parents as Teachers programs, which train college graduates to work as educators in struggling schools and provide support for early childhood development, respectively.

The budget also includes an additional $2 million for the A+ Scholarship program, on top of about $33 million. The program this spring semester fell one credit short of fulfilling the promised two-year free community college tuition to student recipients.

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Source: Associated Press