By CHRIS BLANK and DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - An attempt to pass legislation to create a dedicated funding source for Missouri veterans' homes has stalled in the Senate - at least temporarily.
Lawmakers generally agree that the veteran's nursing home legislation is critical for Missouri's proposed $24 billion operating budget, yet senators debated from Monday afternoon into early Tuesday morning without being able to come to a vote on the legislation.
Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, has vowed to hold up the veterans' legislation - and any other issue brought to the Senate floor - until his concerns over other budgetary issues are addressed. Crowell has the backing of several other Republican senators who also have particular beefs with the proposed budget and state policies.
"I know how to tie up the floor, and I'll do it," Crowell warned his colleagues on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he hopes some additional time will help cool tempers and lead to a solution. But Dempsey appeared set on pushing the veterans' funding legislation to a vote.
"From my standpoint, the veterans' funding bill is the most important bill that we have to do, and until we resolve this issue, I mean I really don't want to do anything else," Dempsey said.
Missouri's veterans' nursing homes currently are funded by payments from residents, federal money, state general revenues and $6 million annually from state fees collected from casinos. But the main trust fund for the Missouri Veterans Commission has shrunk from $80 million in 1999 to $17 million after being repeatedly tapped when general revenue appropriations declined.
The legislation would earmark about $30 million more annually in casino fees to the veterans' fund. Early childhood programs that currently benefit from the casino fees would instead be funded with $35 million from Missouri's share of a nationwide settlement with tobacco companies. That would force more money shifting.
Lawmakers expect that about $35 million would have to be pulled out of the state's basic funding formula for K-12 public schools to offset the loss of tobacco funds that currently go into state general revenues and the Medicaid program. The plan assumes that the Missouri Lottery would generate $35 million in additional revenues for education, but it is not clear how the lottery would come up with that extra money.
Crowell helped come up with the veterans' funding plan. But he's holding it up because of he doesn't like a proposed $2 million funding increase for Southeast Missouri State University, which is supported by House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville. That issue is still pending before House and Senate budget negotiators.
Others, such as Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, participated in holding up the veterans' bill because they want wording included in legislation that would bar the state from implementing a quality rating system for preschools and child-care centers and would prohibit the University of Missouri-St. Louis from running a nonpartisan political institute for women which some Republican lawmakers contend has been used to churn out Democratic politicians.