The House has completed work on a $22.4 billion spending plan for state programs and services. The package now moves to the Senate for its consideration.
State representatives began work on the budget upon their return from their combined spring and Easter break. The heavy lifting came Wednesday as the House engaged in floor debate in which it considered amendments to the 13 bills that make up the budget for the 2009 fiscal year that begins July first. Though the House debated the budget for nearly 12 hours, little changed from the spending blueprint which the House Budget Committee approved after holding public hearings since the beginning of the year.
Democrats, who have loudly criticized Republicans for cutting Medicaid in 2005, won a small victory by transferring two million dollars slated for hospital payments to restore physician approved therapies, such as physical therapy. Democrats say it’s still not enough. House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet (R-Wildwood) says the Medicaid budget which totals $6.7 billion is a $300 million increase. He also suggests that if legislators don’t rein in costs, the Medicaid budget would bankrupt the state.
The cuts enacted in 2005 during a very difficult budget year left 90,000 Missourians off Medicaid. Democrats contend that has grown to 170,000 and they say the cuts have kept the state from reaping more than a billion dollars in federal matching funds.
Though the budget for the coming year contains a $120 million increase in payments to public schools, Democrats say it’s not enough. Rep. Joe Aull (D-Marshall) said during floor debate that Republican leadership wouldn’t have to promote a bill to increase the minimum teacher salary if additional education funding would be provided. Republicans counter that the $5.2 billion budget for elementary and secondary schools is the largest in state history. Budget Committee Chairman Icet says the budget keeps the state’s commitment to children. He notes the education budget has more than doubled in the past ten years.
Partisan disagreement also centered on whether the state should pour more money into scholarships or into state college budgets. Republicans have greatly increased the funding of Access Missouri, which provides scholarships to college students. The House budget sets aside $100 million for the program. Democrats contend the shift of emphasis has sent universities scrambling for funding and has made access to college more difficult.
The House has approved a flat $1,056 pay raise for state employees. The governor had proposed a three percent increase.
Budget writers in the legislature have grown a bit more pessimistic about the state budget since the beginning of the year. Governor Blunt proposed a $23 billion budget. Concerns about a dampening economy have caused the legislature to trimmed that proposal by more than half a billion dollars. Still, the budget as it stands would be about one billion dollars larger than the current budget.
The budget bills are HB 2001-2013 and can be accessed at the Missouri General Assembly Web site .