The Missouri House has given initial approval to a state budget that would be implemented in July.
Thirteen funding bills covering everything from transportation to education to Medicaid have cleared and a final vote is expected to come Thursday before the budget can move to the state Senate.
The biggest development was the announcement of an agreement between the legislature and colleges and universities to restore $68 million in cuts to higher education Governor Eric Greitens made in his budget proposal. The agreement will keep funding for the upcoming fiscal year beginning in July equal to where it is now.
In exchange, the institutions have agreed not to raise tuition more than 1% in the next school year. The arrangement, although praised by numerous college and university administrators, still leaves higher education $30 million short of full funding.
During floor activity, the House also satisfied the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s request to fully fund the state’s foundation formula. It granted the department’s call for a $98 million increase, stepping above the governor’s proposal of $50 million.
In addition, the chamber restored money it had previously withheld from roads and bridges to fulfill the transportation department’s request of $163 million.
The House rejected a number of amendment proposals to the budget. After a lengthy floor debate, the chamber voted down a proposal to restore money for DWI checkpoints which were eliminated last year in favor of an allocation to fund saturation patrols instead. The final vote was 77-60.
The House Budget Committee’s decision to move the state health lab out of the health department and into the Department of Public Safety also became a topic of discussion on the floor. The committee’s action came after the health department refused to provide information concerning the number of people who have been infected with the Bourbon virus after a state worker died from the illness last summer. An amendment to leave the state health lab in the health department was defeated.
There was also disagreement in how to handle the nearly $2 billion general revenue allocation for Medicaid.
Democrat Deb Lavender of Kirkwood found success in amending a portion of its budget. The vote was 100-30 in favor of her suggestion to boost funding for the state’s Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Program. The program provides energy-efficient home improvements such as insulation to low-income households.
Several previous amendments from Lavender failed to secure money for, among other things, low-income seniors and a low-income drug prescription program. Afterward, she tweeted from the floor, “Unfortunately the people who lost tonight are our low-income seniors and people who live with disabilities, seniors who used MORx, and our Medicaid residents in nursing homes.”
Democrat Lauren Arthur of Kansas City was also unsuccessful in persuading the Republican supermajority House members to open up language currently in statute that prohibits the expansion of the Medicaid program.