Missouri lawmakers are reviewing Governor Eric Greitens budget for the upcoming fiscal year which starts in July. Greitens announced $572 million in cuts to state agencies and services in a formal address last Thursday.
At a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday, legislators made numerous observations and inquiries to the state’s acting Budget Director, Dan Haug, who offered more detailed information about the budget.
A number of Senators voiced concern that Greitens chose to remove $35 million in school transportation money. Republican Mike Cunningham of Rogersville thinks the decrease in funding will be acutely felt in his rural southern Missouri district.
“Something kind of rang home a couple of years ago” said Cunningham. “I talked to a school district down there, and they said their bus trip was equal to a trip to Disneyworld every day and back to Orlando. And when you start thinking like that, how that effects our rural schools, it’s just incredible.”
Haug said the governor had to make difficult choices and opted to protect classroom funding at $3.3 billion, which actually includes an increase of $3 million.
Money for school transportation will decrease from $105 to $69 million under Greitens plan. Republican Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph noted the school’s themselves will now be forced to foot a larger portion of the transportation tab.
“The transportation money has to be paid by law, doesn’t it” said Schaaf. “I mean if kids need to be transported, don’t they, by law have to spend that money? So my point is that in order to spend that money, school districts have to take it out of the classroom.”
Democrat Kiki Curls of Kansas City, after getting clarification from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that schools are required by law only to transport kids living more than 3 ½ miles from campus, said she shudders that young kids could be forced to walk such a distance.
Republican senators, particularly Schaaf, spent a good deal of time discussing ways to curb Medicaid costs at the hearing. Haug admitted the biggest area of uncertainty in the budget is healthcare costs.
About 250,000 individuals will be moving from a fee-for-service arrangement to managed care through an HMO or PPO within Medicaid in 2018. They’ll start to receive services in May, two months before the fiscal year begins.
Schaaf noted because of the set-up, about $100 million in medical bills would have to be paid out in the new fiscal year.
He also claimed a program to move rural Medicaid recipients to managed care from fee-for-service would be more costly to the state. Medicaid related issues consumed a large portion the hearing.
Warrensburg GOP state Senator Denny Hoskins took issue with the omission of the state’s biggest industry in the budget summary that committee members were given. “The number one job and economic occupation in the state of Missouri,to the tune of $88 billion, is agriculture. And I don’t see anything in the summary related to agriculture.”
Haug detailed roughly $13 million in cuts to the state Agriculture Department with the majority of it, $8.9 million, coming from bio-diesel subsidies. Also stripped from agriculture for 2018 were new programs which were proposed for this year, but were restricted before they started because of budget shortages, including $2 million for a beef initiative and $1 million for an international trade office.
Another concern came from Republican Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, who wondered why the state is adding 100 employees who will be paid through the General Fund, or G.R., while so much money is being slashed overall.
“I think that’s important when we’re talking about GR and having a deficit, that we’re actually increasing 100 employees that we’re paying with GR. I think we need to know who those people are and why.”
Missouri’s overall budget totals $27 billion. Lawmakers can make adjustments to Greitens proposal, but must have a plan ready for him to look over by early May.