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.

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.

According to District 58 State Rep. David Wood (R-Versailles) who serves on the House Subcommittee on Appropriations for Health, Mental Health and Social Services, there is a formula that would determine the amount that each district would receive. Fully funded for the first time last year, he stated in his Capitol Report that this action required the House to expand the formula to include preschool this coming year. 

The House added $98 million to the budget line to meet these requirements, according to Wood.

“The transportation funding for schools received a small increase over the Governor’s recommendation but it is still short of what is needed,” he added.

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.

“This funding includes our 2 and 4 year colleges/universities and our technical schools. We have to build a strong workforce and it is necessary to keep higher education at all levels to provide the training and education,” Wood commented.

Republican Senator Mike Kehoe (District 6) added his support to this House budget decision.

“I am pleased their budget eases the burden on Missouri families by investing in higher education. After years of hits to the budgets of our public universities, it is important and proper to fund them in a manner that helps keep tuition down for our children and grandchildren,” he commented in his weekly Capitol Report.

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."

Wood acknowledged there were a lot of cuts to healthcare last year, but that the legislature was able to restore a portion of them. 

“We were able to restore half of the provider rate cuts from last year and increase some of the money for the developmentally disabled. This is my budget area and it is very difficult to restore programs when the cost of healthcare and medications rise dramatically each year,” he explained.

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.

While the focus in this and recent budget cycles has been on what is being cut, there was some positive news in the upcoming state budget for healthcare spending, according to Wood.

“We have funded a new program for low income women that deliver a child and are addicted to drugs. Currently these mothers are covered by Medicaid for 60 days and that is not enough to get them through a rehab program. We are extending Medicaid eligibility for one year so that the rehab can be completed and hopefully keep family together,” he stated.

Overall, Wood noted, “There are many highlights and disappointments in every budget. I do not get into the blame game as to why our revenues are not enough to fund all of the requests. I do work very hard to make sure that the money we receive is spent in the areas that are needed most.”

With the passage of a budget in the House, committees of the House and Senate are now working to finalize a fiscal plan for next year that both can agree on.

Kehoe commented, “The house budget committee, under the leadership of Representative Scott Fitzpatrick, has devoted a great deal of time, energy, and effort into this process and I am grateful for their work in terms of both quality and timeliness. By sending the house version of the budget to the senate so early in the legislative session, Senator Brown and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee can quickly start the mark-up process, which leads to a finalized senate version.  Additionally, with early receipt by the senate, both chambers will have additional time to discuss and refine differences between the two versions in conference ahead of the constitutional timeline for completion.”