The Missouri House of Representatives approved a budget plan Thursday with more money for early education and flat funding for public colleges and universities, but it keeps in place cuts to services for seniors and people with disabilities. In hopes of giving them more time for rehabilitation, it also extends Medicaid coverage for low income women who give birth and are addicted to drugs.
Republican House leaders touted an increase in money for K-12 public schools that will mean lawmakers meet core funding goals outlined in state law, along with a new requirement that the state kick in an extra $48 million for early childhood education programs.
The House spending plan also avoids $68 million in cuts Republican Gov. Eric Greitens proposed to public colleges and universities based on what they're expected to receive this year, a deal reached after most schools pledged not to raise tuition more than 1 percent.
House Democrats slammed the spending plan, however, for keeping cuts to in-home and nursing care that took effect this year. Democratic proposals to draw unused money set aside in other funds to help boost funding for the services failed to be adopted.
"Please make no doubt, we do have the money available to use this year," said Kirkwood Democratic Rep. Deb Lavender, who pitched ideas on ways to come up with the funding. "And if we choose to make these services a priority, we will always have this money available. We as a state legislature are choosing not to make this a priority."
The services first went on the chopping block when Greitens last year initially proposed slashing them by requiring people to have a greater level of disability to qualify for the program, although he later backtracked.
The House in the final minutes of last year's session passed a plan to authorize the state administration commissioner to take $35.4 million from various dedicated funds in order to maintain the same level of personal care services. Greitens later vetoed the proposal.
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard and House Speaker Todd Richardson last year pledged to find a solution, but a bill that would come up with funding by slashing a tax credit for low-income seniors and renters with disabilities is stalled in the Senate.
While Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Brown on Thursday said nursing home funding was a major crisis facing the state and promised to address the issue this year, House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick appeared less optimistic.
"If the Senate can get really any kind of reform over to us, I think we would certainly be interested in looking at passing that," Fitzpatrick said. "But right now it seems to be more of a Senate problem in being able to get it out over there."
Missouri senators also on Thursday gave final approval to an additional $700 million of spending this year, primarily to fund higher-than-expected costs in the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.
State general revenues account for $162 million of the additional spending, which is more than lawmakers had originally expected to spend on a mid-year budget adjustment.
That now goes to Greitens' desk.
Associated Press writers Summer Ballentine, David A. Lieb and Blake Nelson contributed to this report.