A cash reserve can be a tempting thing for legislators crafting a nearly $23 billion state budget.

First, members of the House took $300,000. Later, they approved stripping another $62,000 from the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan reserve. Other attempts to take money from the reserve which totals $88 million were unsuccessful during preliminary debate on the $22.4 billion dollar state spending plan approved by the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Sam Page (D-Creve Coeur) and Rep. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph), who both serve on the Consolidated Health Care board, oppose the move. They argue that any reduction of the plan’s reserve will force the board to raise the health care premiums paid by state employees. They say the reserve is needed to insure the financial viability of the plan, so that it has sufficient funds to pay claims and keep costs in check.

Rep. Chuck Portwood (R-St. Charles) sees such arguments as dishonest. He has gone as far as to say they are lies. Portwood argues the reserve has grown substantially in the past few years and doesn’t need to be as large.

Other complaints against the Health Care Plan board come into play as well. Rep. Scott Lipke (R-Jackson) sponsors the amendment that stripped more than $62,000 from the plan, because the board approved pay raises substantially larger that those given to state employees. Lipke says members of the board assured his sub-committee that they would approve salary increases in line with the three percent pay raise approved for state employees.

The House has given preliminary approval to the state budget which begins July first. Final approval could come Thursday, the end of the legislative week. Once approved, it can move to the Senate for its consideration.

Download/listen Brent Martin reports (:60 MP3)