Democratic Gov. Nixon's budget proposals face challenges in Missouri's GOP-led Legislature



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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has asked lawmakers for more money this year and next, but with an even stronger grip on the Legislature and new checks on the governor's power, Republicans are unlikely to give him what he wants.

Nixon is asking for $140 million more from general funds to pay bills this year, while still withholding $502 million in general revenue expenditures from the current budget, citing lagging state income. Some lawmakers are questioning why they should approve more spending if there's already not enough money to fulfill all of the previously approved spending.

Nixon also is proposing a $26 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year, which he says could be enlarged to provide more money for education and health care if lawmakers would approve several revenue-raising proposals, including an expansion of Medicaid eligibility. Lawmakers have previously rejected Medicaid expansion, and some don't like that Nixon is continuing to link the idea to increased education funding.

2015 BUDGET

Nixon has been planning for 5.2 percent revenue growth from the previous fiscal year. But that's still far short of the 11 percent growth that state budget director Linda Luebbering said is needed for current budgeted expenses. That has led Nixon to block spending for some programs, including ones that provide meals to the elderly and college scholarships, among others.

Now Nixon is requesting $140 million more to pay the state's bills. Luebbering said the additional money he's requesting is needed to cover existing bills, whereas the money he refuses to release was for optional programs. She said based on current revenue projections, it's unlikely Nixon will lift those restrictions without withholding funds elsewhere.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer and other members of his panel are reluctant to grant Nixon the power to spend more money when funding for other projects is stalled.

"The chances are slim" the governor will get the additional funds, Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia, said after Nixon delivered his State of the State address on Wednesday. "But we'll evaluate it."

Some lawmakers also have threatened to exert a new power to wrest control of the budget from Nixon. In November, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that allows legislators to override the governor's decisions to withhold funds lawmakers have allocated in the budget. This power is intended to keep money coming in to fund the state government in line with spending.

Whether they can use those powers to release funds held by the governor from last year's budget is unclear.

2016 BUDGET

The constitutional amendment also barred Nixon from including any assumed revenue from his legislative proposals as part of his budget.

Nixon technically abided by that when outlining his 2016 budget. But he also proposed legislation to increase revenues, which would grow the size of the budget. Most notably, he called on legislators to expand Medicaid eligibility for low-income adults — which would bring in more federal funding — and approve an amnesty period to encourage people to pay overdue state taxes.

Both of those proposals have failed in previous years and seem unlikely to gain traction in the General Assembly.

Without any revenue-increasing proposals, Nixon's budget calls for an additional $71 million for K-12 education, of which $50 million would be distributed as basic aid through a state formula. But in his speech to lawmakers, Nixon cited a proposed $150 million education funding increase that relies on passage of those additional revenue measures.

House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said Nixon had violated the spirit of the constitutional amendment and was "disingenuous."

"Expanding Medicaid in this General Assembly is a non-starter and has been for years," Flanigan said. Even tax amnesty, a proposal Flanigan has long supported, is not likely to become reality because of opposition in the Senate, he said.

Nixon's official budget, without the increased revenue options, does not include dental benefits for adult Medicaid clients, a change the Legislature passed last session. Schaefer said that's one part of "a tactic of holding Missourians hostage to get what he wants."


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