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Missouri House panel advances two-tier budget plan

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 8:14 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri House panel forged ahead with a budget plan Wednesday that would make education funding partly dependent on the strength of the economy and bar colleges from offering cheaper resident tuition rates to students living in the U.S. illegally.

The plan approved by the House Budget Committee takes a two-tiered approach, not typically used in Missouri, to fund hundreds of public school districts and dozens of state colleges and universities.

If state revenues meet the projections of the Republican-led legislature, schools would get a $122 million increase over their current $3 billion of basic aid. If revenues meet Gov. Jay Nixon's more optimistic projections, schools could get a total of a $278 million increase in basic aid, though they might have to wait until near the end of the school year to know if that happens.

"We are providing a really, really solid increase for the foundation formula" for schools, said Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, a member of the budget panel.

No matter how much money schools ultimately receive, the proposed funding hike still would fall short of the $556 million increase needed to fully comply with a state school funding law.

The House budget plan would take a similar approach with higher education. Nixon had proposed a performance-based increase of 5 percent for public universities and 4 percent for community colleges. The House plan instead offers all higher education institutions a 2 percent funding increase, with a chance for a 3 percent increase if revenues come in above the legislature's projections.

Republican committee members added wording Wednesday to the budget that would prohibit public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition rates to students living in the country illegally. The amendment was a response to a plan by St. Louis Community College to offer local tuition rates to such students. Democratic committee members said many of those students have lived in U.S. most of their lives, having been bought here at a young age by parents who immigrated illegally or stayed here longer than permitted.

By barring those students from paying the lower tuition afforded to Missouri residents, "we are standing in the way of someone going on to get a college education" said Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.

Lawmakers are working on the 2015 state budget, which will take effect July 1. The proposed budget is expected to be debated by the full House in a couple of weeks.

Nixon, a Democrat, had proposed that Missouri accept more than $1.7 billion of federal money to expand Medicaid eligibility to about 300,000 lower-income adults under the federal health care law. As it has in past years, the Republican-led House Budget Committee rejected that Wednesday.

But the committee's plan includes $48 million in federal and state money to restore Medicaid dental coverage to adults. That coverage had been eliminated in 2005 under a Republican scale-back of the health care program.

A significant amount of the discussion at Wednesday's committee hearing focused on how best to manage Missouri's land, rivers and wildlife.

Republican committee members turned back a Democratic attempt to strip $6 million that would be set aside for the state to take over the operations of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, if the National Park Service agrees to relinquish its control. Some Republicans are upset about a federal proposal to revise the park's management plan, which they said could limit the public's recreational use of some areas.

The House panel added $500,000 for a public-private partnership aimed at eradicating Asian carp and $413,262 to fund a $50 bounty on each otter killed by hunters. Supporters said both animals are destroying good fishing spots in rivers and ponds. The panel also added $413,626 to attack the multiflora rose, a plant labeled as a noxious weed by Missouri more than three decades ago.

 


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