Nixon, lawmakers at odds on aid

Gov. Jay Nixon sought to enlist public support for reversing a proposed cut in assistance to the blind Tuesday, decrying it as “dead wrong.”

Nixon said many blind Missourians rely on aid for health care costs and trimming the aid would force people to decide between paying for medication and food or between seeing their doctor and paying electric bills. He called for state lawmakers to reverse the budget cut and said he’s not interested in negotiating to restore a smaller portion.

The Republican-led House Budget Committee recently voted to cut the Supplemental Aid to the Blind while reversing the Democratic governor’s proposed cuts to public colleges and universities. The $30 million assistance program for the blind covers medical care for more than 2,800 blind people who earn too much to qualify for the Medicaid program for the poor. However, House budget writers set aside $6 million for a slimmed-down assistance program for the blind.

Under the House panel’s budget plan, higher education institutions generally would get what they received last year. Nixon in January proposed a cut of $106 million, and a month later announced plans to soften the cut by using $40 million from an anticipated national settlement with mortgage lenders.

Nixon said Tuesday no university leaders were calling for their budgets to be restored at the expense of aid to the blind. He spoke to dozens of people from a podium set up in the parking lot of Services for Independent Living in Columbia, which promotes independent living for people with disabilities.

“Gutting health care for needy, blind Missourians isn’t the way to fund higher education,” Nixon said. “It isn’t the way to move our state forward. And it’s just not the right thing to do.”

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey has said education funding is his top priority for the 2013 budget that takes effect July 1.

The Kansas City Republican said Tuesday that Nixon’s administration should contact him to discuss funding education and blind assistance after Nixon completes his “press conferences and campaign rallies.”

Silvey said the $6 million reserved for blind Missourians by the budget panel is designed for a transitional program with an income test that is focused on serving people whose incomes make them the closest to eligibility for Medicaid benefits. He said the funding would be enough to provide full medical benefits for about 600 people.

Funding for that proposal has come by shifting $2 million from marketing and international trade offices in the Department of Economic Development and allotting $4 million from the new state revenues expected to be collected with the approval of separate legislation to eliminate a sales tax exemption for newspaper publishers.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, has said he opposes cutting assistance for the blind.

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