Missouri House criticizes Senate budget changes; Legislature must reconcile differences



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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Several key parts of Missouri's $26 billion spending plan for next fiscal year will be resolved by negotiators from the Legislature's two chambers after the House on Wednesday declined to adopt most of the sweeping changes made by the Senate just hours earlier.

At issue is a lump-sum approach for the social services, mental health and health departments pushed by the Senate's lead Republican budget writer, Sen. Kurt Schaefer. Typically, lawmakers allot money for specific programs within state departments, rather than giving agencies the leeway to make most of their own spending decisions.

Schaefer's plan also would cut roughly $130 million in general revenue from the House proposal for most programs within those departments.

Schaefer, of Columbia, said the aim is to rein in spending on welfare programs and force the departments to find ways to save money.

But state budget director Linda Luebbering, department officials and senators from both sides of the aisle have warned that the Senate's proposed budget is not enough to fund services for seniors, people who are mentally ill and foster children.

Concern over that approach, along with a proposal to switch 200,000 Missouri residents on Medicaid from fee-for-service to managed care, almost meant the defeat of the social services budget during a Senate overnight debate. The bill needed 18 votes to pass, so an initial 17-15 vote fell one shy. But Republican Sen. Will Kraus, of Lee's Summit, made a motion to reconsider and switched to a "yes" as the social services budget passed the Senate 18-15 early Wednesday.

Concerns were raised again several hours later in the House, which declined to adopt the Senate's changes on most of the package of budget bills.

Republican state Rep. Marsha Haefner, of Oakville, is chairwoman of the House appropriations panel for health, mental health and social services. She said the Senate's proposal "would be catastrophic" for some mental health programs.

Democratic state Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, of Kansas City, said the Senate's lump-sum budget plan was like giving the governor a "giant pot of gold" to "spend however you want."

House and Senate leaders are appointing conference committee members responsible for resolving differences in the two versions of the proposed 2016 budget. Lawmakers have until May 8 to send a final version to Gov. Jay Nixon. The budget is to take effect July 1.

Other parts of the budget that remain to be settled include how much of a funding increase to grant Missouri's public schools.

Elementary and secondary school districts will get between $74 million and roughly $84 million more in basic state aid compared to this fiscal year. Public universities and community colleges will get between $12 million and $27.6 million more.

One proposal cemented into the budget would ban state aid for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally and require public colleges to charge those students the international rate of tuition.

Republicans have touted the provision as blocking limited state resources from going to those without legal immigration status, while it's been decried by Democrats as hampering those students from seeking a college education.

State employees also will not receive a pay raise next fiscal year under the proposed budget.


Budget bills are HBs 1-13.


Online:

Missouri House: http://www.house.mo.gov


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