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Gov. Blunt finalizes $21.5 billion state budget

Thursday, June 28, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:37 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Matt Blunt made only minor changes as he signed off on a $21.5 billion state budget Wednesday.

The state’s new fiscal year begins Sunday, so Blunt had to sign the 13 major budget bills by the end of this week.

Missouri’s overall spending plan is about 3.3 percent higher than the current year’s, roughly keeping pace with inflation.

The budget includes more money for schools, colleges and medical providers, along with raises for judges, some elected officials and state workers.

“Missourians can be proud that we have again carefully balanced the state’s resources to honor our shared commitment to education and make important investments in our future that will keep Missouri moving forward,” Blunt said in a written statement.

The budget includes more than $2.8 billion in basic aid for K-12 schools, a nearly 5 percent increase over the amount originally budgeted for the current year.

But some Democrats said that wasn’t enough. They noted that the Republican-led Legislature took the rare step of holding back some of the money the state is expected to bring in, and left about $200 million unspent, in reserve for future years’ needs or as a cushion if the economy turns sour.

In signing the budget, Blunt issued just two line-item vetoes. The governor nixed $155,760 to cover parking for public defenders. Blunt’s veto letter said another part of state law requires counties to cover parking expenses for public defenders.

The section of law in question says counties shall provide “office space and utility services.”

Blunt’s other veto fixed a drafting error in the Department of Corrections budget. Without the change, Blunt said the department would have been prevented from offering substance abuse treatment to inmates. That part of the budget includes nearly $8.4 million for substance abuse services.

Spending for higher education will climb in the budget. Public colleges and universities’ funding will rise on average by more than 4 percent. But that’s far shy of the more than 12 percent increase recommended by the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education. The budget also provides a substantial increase in funding for Missouri’s main financial-need scholarships.

State rates paid to medical providers are rising too, though not as quickly as some doctors would like.

The budget contains an extra $25 million to increase rates paid to doctors who treat patients on Medicaid, the joint state-federal health care program for the poor. But that influx still is less than one-fourth of what’s needed to match the payment scale for treating those on the federal Medicare program for seniors.

Incentive payments for ethanol and biodiesel producers are budgeted at nearly $42 million, a threefold increase over the less than $14 million in the original budget for the current year.

State employees will get a 3 percent pay raise. Judges and statewide elected officials will get $1,200, plus 4 percent in addition to that, following recommendations of a citizens’ panel.

Blunt has a few more weeks to review non-budget bills. All legislation not vetoed by the end of July 14 will become law.


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