House budget chairman on search for savings in FY ’18 budget; wariness about tobacco settlement money

The House took another step in drafting a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, when the bills that make up that spending plan were filed.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Meanwhile, House appropriations committees continue taking testimony from state agencies and elected officials about how much they want or hope to receive in state money if Fiscal Year ’18.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said those committees are looking for places the state can save money to offset a $500-million shortfall.

He said lawmakers are looking at renegotiating managed care contracts to reschedule some expenses as the state switches to managed care in FY 18, and examining the funding request from the state employee retirement system to make sure it isn’t unnecessarily great.

Governor Eric Greitens (R) last week recommended changes to his own budget proposal that would see greater spending on public school transportation and on in-home services for low-income residents with disabilities.

Fitzpatrick said the problem is Greitens proposes funding those restorations with money from Missouri’s settlement with tobacco companies.  Greitens based his latest proposal on a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that would let Missouri get $52-million in settlement money.

“I think we will see that money but I think there’s a potential for another negative decision on the tobacco lawsuit front for the next year that is basically a new lawsuit that could offset any gains we’re making from that,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I’m not 100-percent convinced that we’re going to spend the extra money that the governor recommended.  I think if we can get comfortable with the likelihood that we’re actually going to have it available in the fiscal year that we may go ahead and spend that, but we’ll look at the best way to spend it.”

The appropriations committees will begin this week preparing their recommendations for spending in the areas they respectively deal with.  In two weeks the main budget committee will prepare its spending proposal with Fitzpatrick’s input, creating a spending plan that will be debated by the full House.

Recent news articles have questioned whether the legislature, in this tight budget year, will fund Missouri’s new voter photo ID law, approved by voters in November.  Fitzpatrick said it would be supported.

“We’re not going to play games with that,” said Fitzpatrick.  “We’ve talked with Secretary of State [John] Ashcroft multiple times about it, and we’re going to make sure that he has what he feels is necessary, whether it be from general revenue or a federal fund that the Secretary of State has access to, we’re going to make sure that he has ample authority to implement that law the way that the statute requires.”

The bills Fitzpatrick filed last week don’t represent his budget recommendation, but that of Governor Greitens.  He said he took that action with a mind for history.

“It is basically the only historical record of a governor’s budget.  If you go back and try to find governor’s budgets from previous years, if the budget chairman does not file the governor’s recommendation then that is not documented … there is no permanent record of that,” said Fitzpatrick.  “The bills themselves are the exact everything that the governor sent.  There are even typos in there that staff found and I said, ‘Nope, leave them the same.’”