Committee unveils $19 billion draft budget

Funding for First Steps program remains, but mental health money reduced in state’s 2006 blueprint.
Friday, April 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:11 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 7, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Holding true to promises Republicans have been making since autumn, a preliminary draft of a $19 billion Missouri budget for fiscal 2006 calls for cuts to state government and includes no additional taxes.

The bulk of the budget cuts centers on social services and the Department of Mental Health. The appropriations bills call for a $59 million increase in spending for K-12 education.

The appropriations bills were filed several hours before a House committee voted early Thursday morning to send to the House floor a bill that would significantly cut the size and cost of the state’s Medicaid program. This bill would reduce the number of people eligible for the state’s largest welfare program while requiring co-payments for chil-dren’s health insurance. It calls for an end to the Medicaid program in 2008.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said the budget bills were delayed to allow language on the Medicaid bill to be finished.

House Budget Committee Chairman Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said the committee conducted an analysis of state government, a task he said was impossible under former Gov. Bob Holden because of disputes between the Republi-can-led legislature and the Democratic governor.

Lager said the unusually thorough analysis required more time, but showed that cuts to social services could in-crease efficiency while minimizing effects on Missourians.

“If we’re not careful about controlling spending, Missouri’s most vulnerable and needy will be in immediate dan-ger,” Lager said. “Programs like Medicaid have exploded over the past several years and forced difficult decisions.”

A final budget is due in five weeks. House Democrats said the tight deadline hinders their ability to critically ana-lyze budget decisions.

Lager dismissed that criticism.

“Those who would criticize because the budget bills haven’t been filed are just being partisan,” he said. “Everyone in (the General Assembly) who is curious to see the budget bills just had to ask.”

Rep. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, said proposed cuts to social services would only defray expenses and ultimately cost the state more.

“We are having a very nearsighted effort going on here,” he said. “They are not looking at what these cuts are going to do.”

Barnitz, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, echoed arguments Democrats have made since the Medi-caid bill was introduced in early March. He said cutting Medicaid would force the poor into hospital emergency rooms on the taxpayers’ dime.

While objecting to cuts by Republicans, Democratic leaders have declined to specify where they would accept re-ductions.

Gov. Matt Blunt has said cuts to social programs are necessary to fund increases for education. Blunt called for $626 million in cuts to Medicaid and $239 million in cuts from state agencies. He also would reduce spending on state employees by more than $20 million.

The budget includes an additional $59 million for K-12 education, for a total of $4.8 billion. It calls for flat appropria-tions to the state’s universities, except for an increase for Lincoln University. The four-campus University of Missouri System would receive about $400 million.

Nikki Krawitz, UM system vice president for administration and finance, said system officials were expecting flat appropriations and had already directed leaders at each of the four campuses to find places to cut costs.

“Obviously, increases are nice, but we are getting what we were told we’d be getting,” she said. “Given the alterna-tives and the many state agencies that had very large cuts, the budget was to be expected.”

Lager said his budget proposal incorporates many of Blunt’s ideas, but he attributed that to similarities in philoso-phy rather than an active effort to consider the governor’s priorities.

The budget, however, does not include Blunt’s recommendation to end the First Steps program. Lager has said he does not support eliminating the program, which provides financial support to the parents of disabled children from birth to age 3.

House leaders said they were optimistic that they could avoid the frequently contentious budget discussions of the last session, because the House and Senate committees responsible for the budget have been working closely with the executive branch.

The budget year begins July 1.

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