Legislature closing in on budget for 2006

The plan keeps higher-education funds and cuts from Medicaid.
Wednesday, May 4, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The General Assembly is poised to begin floor debate today on a state budget for fiscal 2006 that eliminates Medicaid benefits for 90,604 people and restores money for higher education that had previously been cut by the Senate.

The $19.1 billion spending plan is the product of negotiations in a conference committee of representatives and senators. The full House and Senate face a Friday deadline for approving the budget.

In its current form, the proposal would leave higher education with funding equal to this year’s. The four-campus UM System would receive about $400 million, University Hospitals and Clinics about $23 million and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry an additional $1 million for accreditation.

UM President Elson Floyd applauded the flat appropriation in a prepared statement, calling it “good news and a validation of the importance of higher education to Missouri.” But he lamented the budget’s elimination of money for the Missouri Bibliographic User System, which electronically links a consortium of libraries, and its $4.35 million cut from the Missouri Research and Education Network, or MOREnet.

“These are vital services for our schools and libraries,” Floyd said. “We have already begun a plan to consolidate these important organizations in order to save funding and operate as efficiently as possible.”

Under social services, the budget includes money to cover the costs of electric wheelchairs, emergency ambulances, oxygen equipment, artificial limbs, diabetic supplies and eye exams. But it would eliminate money for eyeglasses, wheelchair batteries and rehabilitation services that teach patients how to use artificial limbs.

The Senate had initially pushed for fewer Medicaid cuts than the House, which in turn had fallen short of the cuts sought by Gov. Matt Blunt. The committee negotiations completed Monday night, however, eliminated many of the benefits the Senate tried to restore.

The plan was completed several days after Blunt threatened to use the line-item veto to pare the budget if legislators failed to make enough cuts to Medicaid.

In addition to eliminating some Medicaid programs, lawmakers are trying to save money by restricting eligibility. The budget as proposed would drop the income threshold for eligibility from 75 percent of the federal poverty level to 23 percent.

About 1 million people are enrolled in Medicaid now.

Children, pregnant women and the blind are largely protected from the cuts, but the budget tacks on a required premium for MC+, a state-funded program that serves children in families that lack private insurance. MC+ enrolls children in families that earn up to three times the federal poverty level, or about $58,000 per year, and is one of the largest such programs in the country.

Although MC+ families that earn more than 225 percent of the poverty level already pay a premium, the House at one point proposed requiring the premium of all participants. That would have knocked 23,000 children out of the program, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services. Negotiators, however, accepted an earlier proposal by Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis City, to put the premiums on a sliding scale. The social services department estimated that plan would pull no children out of the program.

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