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Our Opinion: State budget represents Missourians' needs

Our Opinion: State budget represents Missourians' needs

May 14th, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

As has been said many times, the lone constitutional requirement of the Legislature is to annually pass a balanced budget one week before the end of the legislative session. The responsibility of managing the state's budget, funded by your tax dollars, is significant and the constitutional mandate further reflects the wisdom of our founding fathers. I am pleased the Legislature once again met the constitutional deadline and passed a balanced budget representing the needs and priorities of Missourians.

The finalized Fiscal Year 2019 budget is in excess of $28.5 billion and includes just under $10 billion in general revenue. This is a huge amount of money, and I am grateful to Sen. Dan Brown and the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee for their hard work and the long hours they spent crafting a budget that rightly puts first-things first. Among the highlights of the FY2019 budget are:

ELEMENTARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION — Record funding for elementary and secondary education by $98 million, including fully funding the foundation formula and a $10 million increase to school transportation.

HIGHER EDUCATION — Restores the $68 million originally cut by the governor and increases investment in the A+ Program by $3.5 million while adding $2 million to Community College Workforce Development.

TRANSPORTATION — Increases funding for road construction by $162.8 million while also paying down debt by an additional $94.46 million.

CORRECTIONS — Adds $4 million for pay increases within the department and $5 million for the Justice Reinvestment Act.

HEALTH, MENTAL HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES — Increases the Department of Mental Health's MoHealthNet utilization by $71.7 million. Provides a one and a half percent provider rate increase for mental health providers totaling $23 million. Increases the nursing home reimbursement rate by $8.30 per Medicaid patient per day, totaling more than $72.1 million. Increases federal funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program by $15 million.

As the House budget was working its way through the Senate, Brown and the members of the committee became aware of additional needs in the state's portion of the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan. The committee had two options: allow the MCHCP to pass these costs directly onto state employees through dramatically increased premiums, or increase funding by more than $61 million, while making some changes to plan deductibles, to hold employee premiums as close to level as possible. Ultimately, the committee made the right decision to increase funding for the state's portion of the plan. However, in order to provide the revenue to do so, state employee pay raises originally intended to go into effect at the beginning of the fiscal year will not do so until the beginning of calendar year 2019.

Brown and I had numerous discussions about whether delaying raises and controlling MCHCP costs for state employees is the best course of action, and the numbers overwhelmingly reveal this to be the case. Absent the state's additional investment of $61.2 million, the average state employee, in the higher deductible plan with a spouse and child, would have seen an annual premium increase of approximately $1,200, consuming their pay raise, plus more. In the FY2019 budget, that same employee will see an increase of less than $50 and will still come out ahead even with their raise not going into effect until Jan. 1. I have fought for state employee pay raises throughout my time in the Senate; however, I also understand that a pay raise which is consumed by increased insurance costs is really no raise at all. I am grateful to Brown and the members of the committee for making difficult decisions to allow state employees to put more money into their pockets.

The final week of session is always very busy, and next week will be no exception. However, please know it will also be bitter-sweet for me. It has been both an honor and a pleasure to represent you in the capitol, and I will miss the opportunity to do so in the future. Thank you for your faith and confidence in me. I pray that I have been, and will continue to be, found worthy.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th Senate District. He shares his perspective each Monday during the session and occasionally during the interim.