House raises budget for school, Medicaid

Friday, March 30, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:09 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The House gave final approval Thursday to a $21 billion state budget that largely accepts the governor’s budget recommendations in increasing funding for Medicaid and education.

The budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1, calls for Medicaid to get an additional $460 million to boost annual funding to $6.4 billion, while the basic state formula for schools would be increased to $2.8 billion. It also adds $176 million for a proposed new health care system, called MO HealthNet, to replace Medicaid.

Democrats said those increases do not go far enough. They note the additional Medicaid spending does not restore health care to those whose coverage was dropped or reduced two years ago and that the education boost does not provide enough state assistance to local school districts.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said he is pleased the budget has room for his proposed tax cut to many retirement benefits and would also leave about $200 million not budgeted, as a reserve, if his tax cut is narrowed to its original scope.

Controversy about whether to put almost $14 million into a special life sciences trust fund divided Republicans, passing by just four votes. Some critics of embryonic stem cell research fear the fund will use state money for that research.

The fund was created in 2003 to funnel 25 percent of the state’s yearly proceeds from a tobacco settlement into research. Lawmakers could first appropriate money into the fund last year, but concern about whether it would be used to support embryonic stem cell research prompted lawmakers not to include any money.

During debate Thursday, Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, said lawmakers who vote against that portion of the bill while supporting other sections that could be used to fund stem cell research, such as money for higher education, are “hypocrites.”

Democratic attempts to force a vote while Republicans argued about whether to include the money for the Life Sciences Trust Fund were rebuffed.

Helping to fuel the controversy were abortion opponents such as Missouri Right to Life President Pam Fichter, who urged lawmakers in a memo Thursday to vote against that portion of the budget.

Under this year’s budget, money from the Life Sciences Trust Fund would be limited to bioenergy, fighting odor and projects at the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, Gateway Fund and Animal Health Corridor.

Lawmakers also stripped most state funding for Amtrak and shifted responsibility for defending payouts to disabled workers who suffer injuries on the job.

Lawmakers, through a series of amendments, took $6.3 million that would have gone to support the passenger train in Missouri while leaving $1.1 million for a transportation fund. But the Department of Transportation said it needs closer to $4 million to operate the train service and warned that the cut would endanger the rail line in Missouri after July 1, if the Senate does not turn back the cut.

Funding for Amtrak has been a target for budget cuts in the past, particularly in the House. The budget now moves to the Senate, which typically has turned back those cuts.

Of the money budgeted for Amtrak, House members shifted $5.3 million to help school districts pay for rising busing costs; $640,000 to Lincoln University in Jefferson City; $300,000 for a video project that interviews war veterans; and $100,000 to a health clinic near Springfield.

The budget also moves from the attorney general’s office money that is used to defend the state’s Second Injury Fund. The fund, which is used to pay workers who suffer injuries on the job that worsen existing disabilities, would go to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Republicans say payouts from the fund have increased rapidly and questioned the ability of the attorney general’s office to defend payments from the fund.

State law gives assistant attorney generals responsibility for defending the fund.

Democrats said the shift was politically motivated and would just delay the defense but not remove responsibility from the attorney general’s office to defend the fund.

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