JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri House of Representatives appropriations committee is proposing to trim $65 million from health and social service programs to offset a possible budget cut for the state's colleges and universities.
Several appropriation committees in the state House are responsible for examining specific areas of the state's budget and then offering recommendations to the House Budget Committee. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported the appropriations panel responsible for examining health, mental health and social services called for a series of budget cuts this past week.
Rep. Tom Flanigan, the chairman of that appropriations panel, said lawmakers are taking seriously the instructions from the state constitution that education is the second priority in the budget after paying state debt.
"It is a Peter-and-Paul world," said Flanigan, R-Carthage. "We combed through and found a significant amount of money, and we are suggesting we use it in higher education."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the recommended cuts would eliminate a $28 million Medicaid program for the blind and would trim about $12 million from subsidized child care. The program for the blind funds medical care for about 2,858 people on the Blind Pension Fund and Supplemental Aid to the Blind.
Gov. Jay Nixon last month proposed a budget that would spread among Missouri's two-year and four-year institutions a cut of $106 million — or 12.5 percent. Nixon has proposed using Missouri's $40 million share from the national mortgage settlement to reduce the budget cut for higher education to 7.8 percent. The budget for the 2013 fiscal year takes effect July 1.
Nixon sharply criticized the recommendations of the House budget panel to trim health and social services programs. He said they provide important services and that he would fight to keep funding for them.
"Cutting health care for the blind, prenatal care for women, services for people with developmental disabilities and child care for low-income families is not the way to balance Missouri's budget," he said. "It isn't the way to move our state forward. It's just plain wrong."
St. Louis attorney Deborah Greider, who represents the Missouri Council of the Blind, said the cuts recommended by the House panel would create a significant problem for people who would now have no ready access to medical care. The cuts would not change monthly cash benefits distributed to adults who are totally blind, which is funded by a statewide property tax.
Democrats serving on the House appropriations committee said they were handed a 10-page list of changes and that Flanigan denied requests to discuss them before voting.
Watching from the audience was Margaret Donnelly, the director of the Department of Social Services, who said she was unsure how the budget cuts would affect her agency. After the meeting, lobbyists and agency officials examined the list in efforts to determine where the budget cuts had been made.
"This is a kangaroo court," said Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Groves.