House budget proposal attempts to strengthen defunding of abortion providers

The budget proposed this week by the Missouri House attempts to strengthen an attempt started last year to defund abortion providers.

Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Robert Ross (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The current fiscal year’s budget includes language that intended to keep all money appropriated by it from going to hospitals or clinics that perform abortions.  Yukon Republican Robert Ross proposed that prohibition, and said it needed to be strengthened.

“Despite that being a simple amendment last year, apparently [the Department of Social Services] was confused, and has chosen not to implement until recently … in this last month,” said Ross.

The House voted to adopt language offered by Ross for this year’s budget to use the definition of “abortion services” found elsewhere in state law.  Republicans including Sonya Anderson of Springfield said they hope this will clarify to the Department the legislature’s intent.

“Time and time again we have heard from our constituents that they do not support their tax dollars being used to fund abortions.  Last year we thought we had put a stop to this … yet here we are again a year later and Missouri is still sending taxpayer money to Planned Parenthood, an organization that is the largest abortion provider in Missouri,” said Anderson.

House Democrat leader Gail McCann Beatty called the amendment a “continued attack on women.”

“I think that amendment, while its target may be Planned Parenthood, this is going to cause some issues to our hospitals as well,” said McCann Beatty.

The statutory definition of “abortion services” includes not only performing abortions, but encouraging or referring a patient to have one.  Raytown Representative Jerome Barnes (D) said that means facilities besides Planned Parenthood could lose money.

Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Talking about abortion and providing fact-based information is not the same thing as providing abortions.  While the amendment maker may indeed target one particular provider, I am very concerned that any women’s health provider could be swept up in this amendment,” said Barnes.

Kirkwood Representative Deb Lavender (D) said the healthcare of women statewide could suffer under the prohibition.

“We are now in this amendment saying if you refer somebody for an abortion out of your facility, we’re not going to pay.  This now affects federally-qualified health facilities,” said Lavender.  “Make no mistake:  you think infant mortality in the Bootheel is high today?  Wait until you pass this amendment because you are going to prevent women from getting healthcare.”

Democrats also argue that tax dollars are already prohibited from being used to pay for abortions, but Republicans including Anderson say that isn’t enough.

“The taxpayers’ money is still going to fund Planned Parenthood.  It may not just be specifically for abortion but Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services in Missouri, so they do benefit from those taxpayer dollars,” said Anderson.

Ross’ amendment was adopted 115-35.  It is now part of the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that the House has sent to the Senate for its consideration.  The Senate will begin its work on that proposal next week.

House budget plan proposes nearly $3-million for education on new voter photo ID law

One of the things House Democrats wanted in the chamber’s proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year, they got.

The House voted to move $1.5-million from an election administration improvements fund in the Secretary of State’s office to go to the implementation of the voter photo ID law approved by voters in November.  Specifically that money is for educating voters about the new law so that they can comply with it when they go to the polls.

St. Louis City Democrat Peter Merideth wants that education process to include direct mail; something the Secretary of State told the House Budget Committee he wasn’t planning to use.

“When we run campaigns, when we try and reach out to voters about elections, there is no better way to reach voters than direct mail, especially in rural parts of the state where people may not even have internet, may not even have cable,” said Merideth.  “Direct mail reaches these people.  That is the best way to let them know about their new rights and responsibilities.”

St. Louis City Democrat Bruce Franks, Junior, said the needs of educating people about the new law can vary from community to community.

“If we’re going to present something new, something that we haven’t had, we have to have adequate education on informing every single community, every single district that we have,” said Franks.

The change would bump the funding available for voter photo ID education to nearly $3-million.  The House’s earlier proposal for funding it with about $1.4-million was based on what the Secretary of State had asked for.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) supported Merideth’s amendment.

“I’m not saying that they can or will spend this money, but they have a plan.  If for some reason their plan doesn’t work, having another tool in the toolbox is reasonable,” said Fitzpatrick.

The measure initially failed but after a motion to reconsider the vote, many Republicans sided with Merideth and Fitzpatrick and approved it.

It becomes part of House Bill 12.  The House is expected to vote Thursday on whether to send that and the rest of the budget bills to the Senate for its consideration.

House advances budget plan using money from repealed renters tax credit

The state House is poised to propose a Fiscal Year 2018 budget that includes money based on the repeal of a tax break for low-income seniors and the disabled.  Budget planners used the money that would be saved by that repeal to support in-home care for the elderly and disabled.

The repeal was first proposed a few years ago by former Governor Jay Nixon (D), based on the recommendations of a bipartisan commission that recommended changes to Missouri’s tax structure.  The legislature passed a bill based on language Nixon had prepared, but Nixon later vetoed the bill after groups spoke out against the proposal.

The plan was brought up again this year as part of Republican budget makers’ response to diminished revenue and the need to reduce spending.

Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender proposed pulling money from three locations in the state budget to restore money for that tax break. Lavender said Missouri is in a budget crisis because the legislature has granted tax cuts to corporations.

“I cannot understand that the first tax cut we want to remove is one that benefits our seniors and people with disabilities living in poverty,” said Lavender.

Lavender said her proposals would buy time for the seniors benefitting from that tax break, so the state could spend the next year developing a more comprehensive tax credit reform plan.

“We were told three weeks ago there was a bipartisan tax commission from 2010 that had recommended this tax credit for our poverty seniors be removed,” Lavender told fellow lawmakers.  “We were not told that all members did not vote for those amendments and that there were 27 other tax credits that were recommended to be removed or altered.  Why is this the one that we went after?”

Republicans credited Lavender with working hard to find money to support that credit, but said she didn’t find enough.

“It does not equal the same amount that was reappropriated under House Committee Bill 3,” said Representative Justin Alferman (R-Hermann), referring to the legislation that repealed part of the renter’s tax credit.  He said the difference would mean there would not be enough money to maintain the in-home care program at its current level.

Lavender’s amendments were rejected.

The House is expected to vote Thursday to send that budget proposal to the Senate for its consideration.

The House Bill that would repeal that portion of the renters tax credit is still in the Senate.  If it does not become law, the money that supports that credit would not be available for the in-home care program.

House budget plan targets Conservation Department’s deal with former director

The state House is poised to send to the Senate a budget that would cut $500,000 from the Department of Conservation.

Representative Craig Redmon (R-Canton), who chairs the budget subcommittee that oversees Conservation, proposed the cut.  He said it is in response to the Department having paid $127,000 plus benefits to former director Robert Ziehmer since he left the Department in July.

“There was a deal struck, unbeknownst to myself or the budget chairman [Representative Scott Fitzpatrick], where they continued to pay the director a salary and didn’t inform us, and it was contrary to what they had in their policy,” said Redmon.  “We feel like this is a blatant disregard for the House of Representatives so this is a message sent to the Department of Conservation.”

Representative Michael Butler (D-St. Louis), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, argued Ziehmer had earned his settlement

“I’d like to ask the body to imagine if they were a director of an agency.  They are taking a lot less money than what they’re worth.  They work in an agency for 30 years and they are forced out politically from that agency,” said Butler.

Redmon said it is not clear why Ziehmer left the Department, and said his committee is still trying to find out.

St. Louis Representative Tracy McCreery (D-St. Louis) said Redmon’s amendment represents a punishment greater than the perceived offense.

“I think you’ve succeeded in getting the attention,” McCreery told Redmon, “but I think that what you’re going to do to the Department of Conservation is in the wrong spirit.  We do not use the budget to punish a few commissioners by punishing all the employees in the department.”

Redmon noted that the budget must next go to the state Senate, and that $500,000 could be restored depending on what the Department tells lawmakers.

The budget for the Department of Conservation is laid out in House Bill 6.

House Budget Chairman proud of proposed full funding of education

The House Budget Committee Chairman is proud of a budget proposal that would accomplish what’s been his top goal since taking that job.

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

Shell Knob Republican Scott Fitzpatrick said in August when he became the budget chairman that his number one priority was to fully fund Missouri’s public schools.  He recently unveiled budget bills that included fully funding the K-12 school formula.

If that part of the budget were to become law, it would be the first time the formula’s current form has had full funding since it was created by Senate Bill 287 in 2005.

“We’re making another year of record investment in K-12 public education,” said Fitzpatrick.  “To me that’s the single biggest thing of which I’m most proud, and the other thing is we did it without spending any more than the governor and the General Assembly agreed to spend.”

Some have noted that the full funding would come one year after the legislature reinstated a cap on how much the formula could grow, year-to-year.  Fitzpatrick said without those caps, the growth in the formula was unsustainable.

“When I got in to the General Assembly the formula was $400-million underfunded, and over the next three or four years we added about $300-million, I think, in funding to the formula, and it was still about $400-million underfunded,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick’s proposal would also reject Governor Eric Greitens (R) proposed cut of all funding to K-12 transportation.

“That’s an important part of what we’re doing with education is that we’re not taking money from transportation and just putting it into the formula to say we fully funded the formula.  We’re making the commitment that we’ve made in previous years to funding transportation as well as fully funding the formula,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick’s budget is based in part ON passage of a bill that would end a tax break for low-income seniors and disabled renters.  The money the state would save from that repeal would go to a program that provides in-home care for the elderly and disabled.

“We’ve invested every single dollar of that back into services for seniors – low-income seniors and a little bit as well for people with disabilities,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick believes a property tax credit should be for people who own their homes and are working to pay it off, “especially because people who are receiving nursing home services being completely paid for by Medicaid are eligible to receive the renter’s portion of the credit, so somebody could be in a nursing home that’s already being completely paid for by the state and then on top of that the state will write a check to them for what’s supposed to represent a credit for property taxes that they paid, and that seems to me to not make a lot of sense.”

The House has passed the legislation repealing that portion of the credit. It must next be considered by the Senate.

Fitzpatrick’s budget also restores some of the state aid to colleges and universities that the governor proposed reducing.  Fitzpatrick said he wanted to minimize the impact reductions would have on students in Missouri.

When legislators return next week from spring break, the full House Budget Committee will debate changes to Fitzpatrick’s proposal before sending it on to the full House, which could make further changes.  It then faces debate in the Senate before going to Governor Greitens, who could sign it into law, veto it in part or in whole, or make spending restrictions.

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.’”