House budget panel endorses spending plan

Missouri House budget writers reversed Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed cuts to public colleges and universities Wednesday while sharply trimming aid for the blind in a $24 billion budget plan for next year.

Proposed elimination of the Supplemental Aid to the Blind has been the most controversial element of the budget this year, prompting opposition from the top Senate Republican and a rebuke from the Democratic governor shortly after the House Budget Committee approved its spending plan Wednesday.

The $30 million program covers medical care for more than 2,800 blind people who earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid program for the poor. House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey had proposed eliminating the program, noting there are not comparable services for other types of disabilities.

But the budget panel decided Wednesday to set aside $6 million for a slimmed down aid program for the blind. To do that, lawmakers shifted $2 million from marketing and international trade offices in the Department of Economic Development and allotted $4 million from expected revenues the state would receive if lawmakers pass a separate bill eliminating a sales tax exemption for newspaper publishers.

Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the funding is designed for a transitional program with an income test focused on those whose incomes put them closest to eligibility for Medicaid benefits. He estimated $6 million would be enough to provide full medical benefits for about 600 people.

Nixon has opposed efforts to cut aid to the blind. The governor said in a written statement Wednesday that “slashing health care from more than 2,000 needy blind Missourians simply isn’t an option. Full funding for this program is the only way to ensure that needy blind Missourians have access to the critical health care services they need.”

House Democrats also said lawmakers must continue looking for ways to boost funding for the blind.

Despite disagreement over assistance for the blind, there was little of the tension that frequently has marked budget debates. The House Budget Committee breezed through a relatively small packet of amendments in about two hours, and the full chamber later this month could consider the roughly $24 billion operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year that starts July 1.

“It’s kind of as good as you can expect with no new revenue coming in,” said Rep. Sara Lampe, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

The House Budget Committee approved more funding for education than Nixon recommended.

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