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Legislature passes education budget, delays work on welfare budget

May 04, 2004
By: Sara Bondioli and Gaurav Ghose
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 1556; HB 1002; HB 1003; HB 1004; HB 1005; HB 1007; HB 1009; HB 1010

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's House and Senate sent Gov. Bob Holden an education budget higher than he had requested Tuesday -- and without the tax increases Holden said were necessary to fund his recommendations.

The House passed the higher education budget, 94-31, with an additional $22 million in general revenue over last year, without a tax increase. The UM system would receive about $9 million of the increase. The budget increase is $18 million less than what Holden requested. The Senate passed the same bill with a unanimous vote.

Elementary and secondary education would receive an increase of more than $100 million over last year -- $55 million more than the governor's recommendation. The House and Senate conference committee on the budget is still working on a few budget bills, including Medicaid funding.

But even an increase begs the question: What increase is good enough? For House Budget Committee Chair Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, the budget is a great step forward showing that the state is funding higher education at a higher level than the last two to three years.

But some Democrats argued that higher education is still underfunded. That was enough reason for Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, to vote against the bill, despite the increase.

"While I am pleased that we have that additional $21 to $22 million ... we are still below where we should be," Harris said. "We are really appropriating only slightly more to higher ed than we did in 1999. Those institutions have seen their costs increase ... that was five years ago."

House Minority Floor Leader Rick Johnson, D-High Ridge, said he voted against the lower education budget because it should have received more funding. With a budget that's $1 billion larger than last year, Johnson said the legislature should use $600 million of it to fully fund the foundation formula for public schools.

In the meantime, a Democratic filibuster by Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, derailed a Senate Republican effort to crack down on Medicaid fraud.

The bill will probably not come up for a vote because of strong Senate opposition to it, said Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County.

The Senate leadership's decision to abandon the Medicaid bill caused House Republican budget negotiators to delay a conference committee on the welfare budget.

The House had passed a much broader Medicaid bill that would have cut Medicaid benefits to more than 50,000 -- a cut they had included in the House version of the welfare budget.

Although the Senate version of the bill was limited to preventing fraud and abuse than cutting Medicaid eligibility, Jacob said he feared Senate passage of the weaker bill could allow the House to push it's version through in a conference committee.

House Republicans introduced the bill as an approach to what they have argued is much-needed Medicaid reform. Jacob said the House version would knock thousands of children, disabled and elderly off of Medicaid.

"My entire Democratic caucus met and all agreed that no matter how hard the Republicans pressed this bill, they were going to stand to prevent it from coming to a vote," Jacob said.

Without passage of the Medicaid bill -- House Bill 1566 -- Bearden said the House will push for funding cuts to Medicaid.

"We have to have Medicaid reform," he said. "And whether it's dollars or whether it's 1566, we've got to get that process started this year. And if 1566 is not going to make it, it looks like we're going to have to have dollar reform this year."

The conference committee still has to finish the remaining three budget bills and others are waiting for House and Senate approval. Bearden said he thinks both the House and Senate are aiming to complete the budget by Friday's deadline, but he said changes to Medicaid are necessary.

"I am unwilling to compromise or sacrifice what I believe we need to have as reform to meet that deadline," Bearden said.