Missouri House, Senate reach budget agreement

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s House and Senate reached an agreement Wednesday night on a proposed budget, wrapping up a sometimes tense negotiation over the roughly $23 billion state spending plan.

Among the sticking points between the House and Senate had been funding for colleges and universities, aid for public school busing, provider reimbursement rates for in-home care services for low-income disabled residents and a prescription drug coverage program. Lawmakers face a Friday constitutional deadline to approve the 2012 budget that starts July 1.

Legislative leaders said they could give the spending plan final approval Thursday.

Many of the budget discussions were handled behind closed doors before a relatively brief public session Wednesday to sign off on the agreement.

The final budget proposals call for giving schools an additional $10 million in state aid to for busing assistance. The agreement was a compromise between senators who had approved even more money for busing, and the House, which had proposed less transportation money in its spending plan.

Lawmakers also agreed to a compromise for higher education, resolving a disagreement about the size of the spending cut for the state’s schools. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and the Republican-led House proposed a 7 percent cut while the GOP-led Senate had proposed adding $20 million and paring the budget cut to 4.8 percent. In exchange, higher education officials had promised to cut costs for their students, such as by bolstering scholarships or lowering course fees.

Ultimately, negotiators agreed to add $12 million for higher education, estimated to amount to a budget cut of 5.45 percent.

Lawmakers also opted to continue funding for the Missouri Rx program that helps to pay the prescription drug costs of seniors and the disabled covered by the federal Medicare program and reverse proposed cuts to the state’s reimbursement rates to in-home care providers for low-income disabled residents covered by the state’s Medicaid program.

The prescription drug program would expire later this year if separate legislation is not passed renewing it. Nixon and the House back extending the Missouri Rx program, while the Senate had proposed eliminating it.

For in-home care provider rates, negotiators opted to side with the House’s spending plan. Nixon and the Senate had proposed a 4 percent cut to what the providers were budgeted to receive this year.

Lawmakers also agreed to cut the budgets of Missouri’s statewide elected officials by 2.5 percent. The governor’s office would receive $200,000 to pay for travel, and lawmakers agreed to a budget cut for the operation of the Governor’s Mansion aimed at an executive chef position.

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Budget is HB1-13

Online:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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