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Legislature passes $19.2 billion budget

May 05, 2005
By: Chris Blank
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A state prison and an inmate work camp, more than 90,000 Medicaid recipients and more than 1,000 of the state's full time positions have been cut, but $113 million to the school foundation formula has been added to the state's $19.2 billion budget.

"We are still doing many great things for this state," said House Budget Chairman Brad Lager, R-Maryville. "Many want to do more, we all recognize and acknowledge this, but at the end of the day, we can only help those with the greatest need."

Many of the social services cuts revolve around the reduction of the Medicaid eligibility and the number of services covered under the state's largest welfare program. Although electric wheelchairs, periodic eye exams and prosthetic limbs are still covered under the program, Democrats said the removal of the batteries for the wheelchairs, eyeglasses and rehabilitation to train people how to use the limbs from the program rendered the restorations mute.

"Who are the people who have the greatest need, the truly needy, the most needy," said Rep. Melba Curls, D-Jackson County. "I contend you cannot determine between the truly need and the needy."

The budget, which passed Thursday, was completed one day before the constitutional deadline and the day before a large protest of the Medicaid cuts was scheduled. House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said the bulk of the most significant legislation had already been passed and that the House was willing to stay late Thursday night to avoid a Friday session.

Beside the budget, $2 million for health sciences research center at MU was cut from a separate measure.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, said he supported shifting the appropriation to the development of agricultural-related genetic research at Northwest Missouri State University because he had never even heard of the plan for the Columbia campus.

Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, criticizing the UM System's prioritization techniques, said he was not surprised Gross had not heard of the plan because the system tends to go for the biggest possible projects.

Responding to Gross' suggestion that Graham should be annoyed with the university for not keeping him abreast of their efforts, Graham said he agreed and that "every time I look around for my backup, it's an empty hallway."

The budget approved Thursday closely resembled the budget the governor had proposed and was initially passed by the House last month. The Senate version had restored more of the proposed Medicaid cuts while cutting the funding for higher education. Gross said the governor's public threat to line item veto portions of the budget if the legislature made too few cuts to Medicaid helped push the budget toward the House's version.

"If you think something is likely to be lost through a veto, you don't want to waste your money there," he said.

Gross said even opponents of the cuts supported moving the money to other areas of the budget that Gov. Matt Blunt had not threatened to veto. A line item veto merely removes money without permitting its introduction into other places.

Although Democrats said they had gone too far, House leadership has said the proposed Medicaid cuts are designed to turn a program that expanded rapidly throughout the 1990s to enroll 1 million participants this year and turn it back into a safety net.

"This isn't a safety net; it's not even a hair net," said Rep. Yaphett El-Amin, D-St. Louis City.

While Lager said the decision to cut Medicaid was a difficult one and done by necessity, some Republicans said they would have supported the cuts had money not been an issue.

"Even if we had the money in the budget to support this type of a system, the system still would not be beneficial, and in my opinion, be a responsible use for taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Brad Roark, R-Springfield.

House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said the budget would cause a great deal of harm.

"This is a budget that denies opportunity for hardworking Missourians who work hard and play by the rules who want and deserve an opportunity to realize the American dream," he said.

Although praising Gross on the Senate floor for his work with the budget in the most difficult budget year he's ever seen, the longest serving lawmaker in the General Assembly and one sharpest critic of the cuts said they came with too little consideration for the future.

"The governor didn't try to solve the problem," said Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis City. "He chose a cut first, fix second approach."

The UM System will receive about $400 million. When negotiations between the Senate and House were concluded earlier in the week, UM System President Elson Floyd stated in news release that he was happy the system had received what it had been appropriated last session and was slotted to receive under both the governor's and the House's plan.

The budget must still be signed by the governor.