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Legislature passes $19 billion budget

May 10, 2001
By: Matt Williams and Nick White
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - State lawmakers gave final approval to a $19 billion budget late Thursday, including an extra $17 million for University of Missouri Health Care.

The 17 budget bills represented a 14 percent increase from last year's budget, with $928 million added to the Department of Social Services, accounting for 30 percent of the total spending package.

Minutes after approving the final budget bill, the Senate gave unanimous approval to a conference committee report that would exempt the mentally retarded from the death penalty. The proposal now returns to the House, with a final vote expected in the last days of the session.

MU Health Care, the cash-strapped manager of university medical facilities, will receive an additional $10 million in federal funds through the Social Services budget and $7 million from Missouri's portion of the national tobacco settlement.

That fund will also provide $3.4 million to establish a telemedicine program based at MU.

Despite a federal mandate that health care providers refer women to abortion providers upon request, the $334 million allocation for the departments of health and mental health included a provision that prohibits funding those who refer women for abortions.

Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, protested by refusing to sign a report from the conference committee that approved the prohibition.

The restriction also prompted Gov. Bob Holden to express concern, though the Democrat said Thursday he had yet to decide whether he will sign the budget bills.

"I thought the language was very unfortunate in the budget situation," Holden said. "I wish it hadn't happened, but I'm not going to say that it will doom the budget."

Brian Long, the state budget director, said Holden will solicit opinions from each department before making a final decision.

The General Assembly, which had until Friday to approve the budget, allocated $433 million more than Holden recommended in January.

"Clearly this is the toughest budget hammered out by the legislature in a decade," Sen. Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit said in a statement.

A proposal to spend at least $35 million to construct a new basketball arena at MU remained on hold, with Kenney, the majority floor leader, giving no indication when he will allow debate on the bond issue.

"I do support the issue, but there are a lot of other important things we have to get through," Kenney said in an interview.

The $19 billion budget included more than $5.4 billion in federal funds. If approved by Holden, it will take effect July 1, 2001.

Laetitia Thompson contributed to this report.