Mo. budget stalled on education, social services

By DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Legislative negotiations over Missouri’s proposed $23 billion budget stalled soon after starting Monday because of a disagreement over how much the state can afford to spend on education and services for the elderly and disabled.

Lawmakers face a Friday deadline, set by the state constitution, to complete action on the state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 — but there are about 175 differences between the budget plan approved in the House and the version passed by the Senate.

In dispute are four basic government programs: funding for colleges and universities, aid for public school busing, in-home care services for low-income disabled residents and prescription drug coverage for seniors and disabled residents.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said many of the difference could be easily reconciled if lawmakers first settle their stalemate on aid to education and social services. But, Silvey said, “the House does not believe that it is wise or prudent to spend every single dollar that we have appropriated between the two positions of the House and the Senate.”

The dispute over higher education funding centers on how large of a cut institutions should receive. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and the Republican-led House each backed a 7 percent cut in basic state aid to colleges and universities. The Senate version would lessen that to a 4.8 percent cut — a difference of $20 million — with a pledge from higher education officials to use some of that money to reduce costs for students through such things as more scholarships or lower course fees.

Silvey proposed Monday to split the difference by providing higher education institutions an additional $10 million over the governor’s proposed cut.

He proposed a similar $10 million compromise on school busing aid. The budget plan by the Republican-led Senate would give schools $118 million in busing aid — $35 million less than schools were supposed to receive this year. But it’s about $20 million more than they actually got this year after Nixon made budget cuts, and also more than the House included in its budget plan for next year.

Silvey also wants to keep the House position on aid to in-home care providers for low-income disabled residents covered by the state’s Medicaid program. Nixon and the Senate support a 4 percent reduction in the state’s reimbursement rates compared to what care providers were supposed to get this year. The House’s funding position amounts to about $24 million in state and federal funds.

The House and Nixon also have backed a continuation of the Missouri Rx program, which helps pay the prescription drug costs of seniors and the disabled covered by federal Medicare program. The Senate has voted to eliminate funding because of the program’s potential expiration later this year, which would save about $13.8 million.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, suggested Monday that Missouri could afford to take the higher dollar amount on each of the four sticking points, noting that senators have endorsed separate legislation that would more than make up for the cost. That bill would offer an amnesty period to entice people to pay delinquent taxes and would eliminate an income tax break intended to offset part of the rent payments of low-income seniors and disabled residents.

“We do have the funding to fund all of those things” rather than “arbitrarily cutting,” Schaefer said.

Silvey countered that it wasn’t smart to bank on that bill passing the House and suggested the state should hold back on spending next year because more cuts likely will be necessary to fill a budget gap that he said could be as large as $600 million in the 2013 fiscal year.

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