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Debate over stimulus funds rages in Missouri Senate

Friday, May 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A discussion over the use of federal stimulus funds erupted Thursday on the Senate floor.

Even though senators voted 29-4 in favor of passing the state's higher education budget, some Republicans voiced concerns about using one-time federal money for programs needing to be sustained after federal funds dry up.

One of the four senators who voted against the bill said he would rather have maintained the level of funding instead of increasing the budget for the 2010 fiscal year.

"There is no magic money machine where you just kick this down the line and someone else pays for it," said Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County. "Eventually we do, and ultimately we're going to pay for it in compromised living standards. We're going to look like Western Europe, which grows much more slowly than our economy does ... And if you think, middle-class taxpayer, that some rich guy is going to pay your bill, wake up. That's not going to happen."

Bartle also said the federal government should not have borrowed money from China, driving the country further into debt.

"It is really stupid to borrow money when you can't pay it back," he said. "This is what got us in trouble — living beyond our means. Wanting a fancier this or a fancier that that our income will allow. A bigger house than we can afford, a nicer car than we can afford. We as a government are voting today to endorse a lifestyle and way of living that got our people in trouble."

While Bartle criticized government intervention in business, Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis City, said government regulation could have helped prevent the mortgage crisis.

"Do you not associate any of the deregulation of the mortgage industry with any of the problems we've experienced?" Smith said. "That's the free marketplace at work."

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, said that while the economy has hit a recession, the government is spending more money than ever.

"The government has one drumbeat that it says, and that's more, more, more," she said. "It is never enough."

The Missouri General Assembly must pass the state budget by 6 p.m. Friday, or the 2009 budget will roll into the 2010 fiscal year starting July 1.

After two hours of heated debate, the House passed a $7.47 billion social services budget most notable for what it didn't include. On Wednesday, the chamber voted 85-75 to reject a version of the bill that included nearly $147 million intended to be used for Medicaid coverage for nearly 35,000 Missourians who don't have it. The funding was removed overnight, and every Democrat, along with two Republicans, voted against the measure on Thursday.

Democrats who opposed the removal of the funds were harsh in their criticism. Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, called the revised bill a "dirty deal done dirt cheap," saying that the coverage would have come at no cost to the state's general revenue fund and would have restored many of the people who were cut from Medicaid in 2005.

The funding would have come from $94 million in federal funds and $52.6 million from hospital contributions.

The House budget chairman, Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said the debate over removing the money did nothing to address the issue of whether those who could have received coverage actually would have. Icet said the problem lies in a system in which doctors lose money when they're not reimbursed for covering patients on Medicaid.

"There is a serious issue with access to health care related to Medicaid," he said. "We can keep putting people on this bus that's broken down, but if you can't get the access to health coverage because doctors are losing money, then what good does it do?"

 


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