Budget subcommittee chair to recommend delay in basing college, university funding on performance

The Chair of the House subcommittee that deals with education funding says he will recommend the legislature put off a performance-based funding mechanism for state-supported colleges and universities.

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi testifies to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education on January 31, 2018. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Cedarcreek Republican Lyle Rowland’s subcommittee heard from those institutions’ presidents over the course of two days and said many of them wanted the same things:  a delay in implementation of that plan, and a restoration of their core funding.

The state budget proposed last month by Governor Eric Greitens (R) would cut higher education funding by 10-percent, or roughly $100-million, from its Fiscal Year 2018 level.  Also in early January, the Coordinating Board for Higher Education approved linking 10-percent of funding for publicly-backed colleges and universities to performance factors such as students’ job placement, degree completion, and budgetary practices.  The model would look back at institutions’ performance over the past three years.

The combination means it is possible, though unlikely, that any given institution could see a decrease of as much as 20-percent in year-to-year state support.

Rowland said he agrees with the institution presidents who told him implementing performance-based funding now puts them at a disadvantage.

“[Institutions] didn’t know what their standards were going to be.  They didn’t know how to change their operation of their colleges and universities to help meet those goals,” said Rowland.  “With them not knowing what standards were, what those areas of concern are going to be, they have no way of implementing it, so it was going to hurt them financially.  We don’t want to hurt them financially.”

He wants to postpone that plan for three years so that institutions will know what areas to work on before their support is tied to them.

“We want to give them the opportunity to build up before we start with the funding model and then let’s put x-amount of new dollars into performance funding then and if you’re not meeting it you’re not going to get all of that funding.  We’re going to redistribute that to the other schools and universities.”

Rowland’s panel on Wednesday heard from University of Missouri System President Mun Choi, who touted to lawmakers the system’s accomplishments but coupled that with words of caution.

He said 90-percent of Mizzou’s students found a job within six months or moved on to graduate school; research is yielding advancements in the agriculture and medical fields; and Missouri S&T last summer beat out other universities from around the world in a competition to design a Mars rover.

“Those kinds of stories are peppered throughout all of our campuses but our ability to continue these programs is in jeopardy because of the cuts that we’ve experienced,” said Choi.

Lincoln University Interim President Michael Middleton echoed Choi’s call for a restoration of core funding and a delay in the performance model.

Representative Lyle Rowland (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“We are about as lean as we can be.  We’re already seeing that giving multiple responsibilities to individuals affects our productivity, which I believe is reflected in the number of students we’re able to recruit and retain,” said Middleton.  “With this [proposed] additional wave of cuts we are in a perfect storm with no clear break in the clouds.”

As for the proposed cut to core funding, Rowland said the governor’s proposal is not likely to stand, but given the state’s overall economic picture some reduction is probable.

“I’m sure there will be some cuts.  What we’re trying to do is try to make it as little as possible,” said Rowland.  “We’re hoping to be able to locate some things [elsewhere in the state budget] that we might be able to transfer into higher ed.”

The ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Kip Kendrick (Columbia), has been one of several lawmakers expressing concern about the timing of performance-based funding.  He thinks most legislators will agree it should be pushed back.

“Higher education institutions across the board were on the same message about this, whether they were going to receive an additional hit from the performance funding model or not,” said Kendrick.  “Everybody was very tepid in having that implemented in a year where there is a potential for up to 10-percent of additional cuts to higher education.  We can’t penalize institutions on top of the additional cuts that they’re receiving this year.  It’s way too punitive and not the right year to implement it.”

Rowland will submit his recommendation to the full budget committee.  That committee will develop its own state budget proposal to be considered by the full House.  Eventually the House and Senate will have to agree on a state spending plan to be sent to the governor.

House budget leaders discuss Greitens’ plan to cut college, university funding

After legislators began going through Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) budget proposal many began expressing concern over his proposal to cut money from Missouri’s colleges and universities.

Representatives Kip Kendrick and Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Governor proposed a 7.7-percent reduction to higher education.  Coupled with money frozen in the state budget that took effect July 1, 2017, that would be a 10-percent cut overall.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said that would amount to a reduction of about $68-million.  Higher education funding is also shifting to being based on performance, which could mean additional decreases for some institutions.

“I haven’t heard any rumblings from any institutions about, ‘If this happens, we’re closing,’ but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I don’t anticipate that all of those reductions will stand in the budget.  I think that we’ll probably try to recover some of that, but I think that the institutions – some more than others – are going to have a difficult time with it.”

Fitzpatrick and the budget committee are just beginning the process that over the next couple of months will see countless changes made to the governor’s budget proposal to morph it into the legislature’s own state spending plan.  He is sure efforts will be made along the way to restore at least some higher education funding.

“It’ll depend on what things we find in the budget that we think we can reduce or any other revenue source that we’re not currently considering that could become available through the process, which usually happens in some way shape or form,” said Fitzpatrick.

Legislators in both parties and in both chambers are expressing intent to propose more funding to colleges and universities than the governor proposed, so it seems likely the 10-percent reduction will not stand.  Still the leading Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Representative Kip Kendrick (Columbia), said he’s alarmed at the governor’s proposal.

“This is a time when we’re at full employment.  That’s what scares me the most is the economy’s doing well, yet we’re seeing such tremendous cuts to public higher education across the State of Missouri.  I’m very concerned about what it’s going to mean for our state,” said Kendrick.  “I think that this is a very concerning trend that we’ve been seeing … what happens in the next [economic] downturn?  What’s that going to mean for higher education at that time?”

As for other provisions in the governor’s plan, neither Fitzpatrick nor Kendrick are supportive of a plan to take out a line of credit to pay for the state to get tax refunds out to Missourians faster.  Both also want to retain or improve on the governor’s proposal to increase pay by $650 to state employees making less than $50,000 a year, but say only time will tell what form any state employee pay hike could take.

House Budget Committee unhappy with how Greitens administration created drug monitoring program

State House Budget Committee members are not pleased with how Governor Greitens’ (R) administration paid for a new prescription drug monitoring program.

The Missouri House Budget Committee (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The Governor created the program with an executive order issued in July.  It includes a $250,000 no-bid contract with Express Scripts, under which that company provides data to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.  The Department uses that data to try to identify prescription drug abusers.

Legislators on the budget committee are frustrated that the administration created and found a way to pay for that program without their input or approval.

Versailles Republican David Wood said it looks bad for this new program to have been announced at a time when the governor has withheld money from other state programs, and after the legislature refused to fund many things saying the state is in a tight budget year.

“It makes me look like a liar,” said Wood.

The Office of Administration’s budget director, Dan Haug, told legislators the money came from additional federal funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that the state had not anticipated it would get.  He said the administration was free to use that money as it saw fit, and used it to address what it sees as a crisis:  prescription drug abuse.

Yukon Republican Robert Ross said the administration circumvented the legislature’s authority and used money that could have supported other state needs, including some the legislature voted to pay for but that later saw the governor withhold the funding.

Budget Director for the Greitens’ Administration, Dan Haug, took the brunt of criticism from House Budget Committee members over how the administration paid to create a prescription drug monitoring program. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“You are taking that money away from someone else,” said Ross.  “Now we could have that discussion of whether it’s more deserving to go to the kids, or whether it’s more deserving to go to the seniors, or whether it’s more deserving to go to those with disabilities, but at the end of the day you are taking that money from one of these other groups.”

Criticism came from both supporters and opponents of prescription drug monitoring with those on both sides saying their problem was not with the program the governor launched, but with how he launched it.

It also came from both political parties.

Springfield Democrat Crystal Quade told Haug it was “extremely frustrating” that CHIP money was used in a way that the legislature had no say in.

“I hope that as you all continue to come up with these new ideas to address this crisis that you bring them to use before you start moving money around,” said Quade.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) suggested the administration should not move forward with its drug monitoring program, and to instead bring it as a proposal to the legislature during the next budget process.  He urged administration officials to halt the transfer of that CHIP money to pay for the program, and to not sign a contract with Express Scripts.

“My suggestion would be to not do that,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick called the use of that money, without the legislature’s approval, a “breach of trust.”

Likely fewer DUI checkpoints in Missouri under new state budget

The state budget that went into effect July 1 could lead to fewer impaired driving checkpoints but more periods of increased law enforcement presence on Missouri roads.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Under language the House proposed no money controlled by that budget can be used on checkpoints.  Specifically, $20-million available for grants that law enforcement agencies have used to fund various efforts now cannot be used for checkpoints.

Supporters said data from the Department of Transportation show that periods of having more officers on the roads, often called “saturation efforts,” get more results for the money invested.

MODOT reported that in the year that ended July 1, 2016, saturation efforts resulted in 3,055 arrests at a cost of $704 per arrest, compared 1,201 arrests at checkpoints at a cost of $1,047 per arrest.   Over the three years through July 1, 2016, saturation periods yielded 9,288 arrests at $704 apiece compared to 4,152 arrests at checkpoints costing $919 each.

A comparison by House staff of states in which checkpoints are legal with states in which they are not found that the latter had a slightly lower number of drunk driving fatalities per capita.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the new language was about making the most effective use of Missouri budget dollars and taking the most effective action toward making roads safer.

“I was convinced by the data … that it’s a better use of money, and it saves more lives by getting more drunk drivers off the road and it does so at a lower cost,” said Fitzpatrick.  “From a budgeting perspective it’s hard to argue in any way that checkpoints are the more effective method than saturation patrols.”

Representative Justin Hill (R-Lake St. Louis), a former O’Fallon Police officer, supported the restriction.

“What we’re going to see is better bang for the taxpayer’s buck because when you put an officer out there and say, ‘Go get an impaired driver,’ for four hours, chances are the officer’s going to find one, but when you add all those officers on one single checkpoint … they average anywhere from three to five.  For 20 officers that’s just not effective use of taxpayer dollars,” said Hill.

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The prohibition was strongly opposed by St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway, who chairs the budget subcommittee on Public Safety.  She argues it’s misleading to say saturation patrols yield more arrests.

Conway said saturation efforts and checkpoints work together, first by publicizing checkpoints on social media and traffic announcements.

“That drives people away from that checkpoint.  Then the saturation on the perimeters of that, because there’s only so many ways to avoid that checkpoint, they catch them,” said Conway.  “So to say they don’t catch people at check points … if you want to get technical about it they’re not, but having that checkpoint they know where the people are going to be going to avoid it.”

From now through June 30, 2018, Missouri law enforcement agencies can still conduct checkpoints, but would have to pay for them through means other than these grants.

Legislature’s budget proposal would save Summer Jobs program for young adults

The budget passed last week by the state legislature would save a program that helps low-income youth enter the workforce.

Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bruce Franks (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Governor Eric Greitens’ (R) budget proposal would have cut all funding to the Summer Jobs League within the Department of Economic Development.  It had $8.5-million last year.  The House had proposed restoring $6-million to the program.  It compromised with the Senate to fund it at $4-million in fiscal year 2018.

Representative Bruce Franks (D-St. Louis), Junior, was responsible for making sure that program received some support.

“I’m happy with the $4-million.  Do I wish it was more?  Of course, but at the end of the day we’ll be able to put some young folks to work,” Franks said.

The Summer Jobs League gives 16- to 24-year-olds from low-income homes in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas work opportunities in fields they’re interested in.  The League pays up to $8.50 an hour for 240 hours.  Business owners don’t have to pay those employees while they are enrolled in the League, but often hire those employees after their time in the league is up.

Franks said it provides important opportunities for young adults whose lives might otherwise lack structure.

“To be able to come in here and get this structure and work at amazing places like Ballpark Village and the Scottrade Center, and our police department, circuit attorney’s office … lawyers’ offices, doctors’ offices, just to get them on the right road,” said Franks.  “It’s more than just, ‘Hey, I’m going to give you a job, you work a couple hours.’  It’s a fundamental, comprehensive way of fighting crime from the root cause by providing the resources that we lack in our economically distressed communities.”

Franks emphasized the program is not just about getting jobs for “kids.”

“It’s about young adults, between the ages of 16 through 24, who get on the road to viable employment through Summer Jobs,” said Franks.  “This program has saved lives; has gotten people on the road to different careers, different trainings, even in my particular business with some of the youth we’ve been able to hire who have moved on to work in corporate offices.”

Franks hopes in future years he can work to put more funding into Summer Jobs to see it offered in more parts of the state.

“The object is to make a viable program for all of the state of Missouri in every single part of Missouri – rural areas, St. Louis City, Kansas City – that’s what it’s about.  It’s not just about one particular area because disenfranchisement doesn’t have a color.  It’s not biased at all,” said Franks.

The budget has been sent to Governor Greitens for his consideration.

Earlier story:  House budget plan would save program to get low-income youths into workforce

Legislature’s budget aims for transparency in settlements with the state, agency workplace environments

The legislature has passed a budget that aims to make state agencies more accountable when lawsuits against them cost taxpayer dollars.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty made creating transparency with the legal expense fund one of her priorities this session.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty made creating transparency with the legal expense fund one of her priorities this session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Lawmakers learned last fall that the Department of Corrections had reached millions of dollars in settlements in recent years with employees who had been harassed, discriminated against, and in some cases retaliated against.  Legislators said they didn’t know about apparent ongoing issues in Corrections because of how money for settlements was identified in the budget.

Settlements had come out of a single line in the budget called the legal expense fund, which had no spending limit.  That meant legislators did not know how much money was being spent on settlements each year, and agencies didn’t have to explain to the legislature what was behind lawsuits against them.

The budget for the year starting July 1 would cap that line at $16-million.  If settlements exceed that, the Office of Administration can pull up to $10-million from other funds it controls.  If that isn’t enough, OA can then take money directly from the budget of the department involved in a given settlement.

The Attorney General has said he will also report to the legislature every month on the activity of the legal expense fund.  House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said that’s why even if OA has to go to any of those additional places for settlement money, it must all pass through that fund.

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

“So it still has to go to the legal expense fund and then it has to be paid from the legal expense fund, so that shouldn’t impact [tracking that fund’s activity],” said Fitzpatrick.

Meanwhile the House has passed a bill that would require by law those monthly reports from the governor, but with the process moving slowly in recent weeks, House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said she’s looking for other bills to which she can add that language.

“The Attorney General has been very cooperative and is now posting that information on his website so it is there for the first time.  I will be asking those other departments that don’t fall under the Attorney General to do the same voluntarily until we have the opportunity to actually pass this legislation,” said McCann Beatty.

Legislators believe that with the new budget provisions and reporting by the attorney general any future situations like that uncovered at Corrections will be exposed.

Meanwhile, a House subcommittee launched to investigate corrections and recommend changes in that department is close to releasing its report.

The legislature’s budget proposal is now awaiting action by Governor Eric Greitens (R).

Legislature’s budget bars use of state-appropriated funds for DUI checkpoints

Missouri drivers could see fewer impaired driving checkpoints under the budget proposed by the legislature.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (left) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Dan Brown (right) conduct a budget conference committee hearing in the House Lounge on May 3, 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (left) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Dan Brown (right) conduct a budget conference committee hearing in the House Lounge on May 3, 2017. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Language added by the House would prevent money in that budget from being used on checkpoints.  It could still be used for other enforcement efforts, and many lawmakers said they would prefer to see it used for saturation efforts – periods of increased numbers of law enforcement personnel on the roads.

House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said saturation efforts are more effective.

“Once the subcommittee passed that amendment, made that recommendation, I researched the issue, and the reality is that saturation patrols result in a greater number of arrests and at less cost per arrest,” said Fitzpatrick.  “To me what we should do as a budget committee is make sure that we’re spending the money in a way that gets the most number of drunk drivers off the road.”

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The shift was strongly opposed by the Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), who chairs the subcommittee on the Department of Public Safety’s budget.

“I think that any time we take funds away that help law enforcement stop DWIs, it’s shameful,” said Conway.  “These two different methods – the saturation and the DUI checkpoints – work in harmony in the more populous areas … what I wanted to see allowed, either or, or a combination, it did not restrict it, and I very much do not like the House version of it.”

Several House Democrats agreed that they would rather have seen law enforcement allowed to continue using state appropriated funds for checkpoints, however the change was supported by several members of the legislature with law enforcement backgrounds.

Fitzpatrick said he wants to at least see some results.

“I would like to get a year’s worth of data on this.  I think it will result in more arrests,” said Fitzpatrick.

The change means that for the fiscal year beginning July 1, law enforcement agencies can still conduct DUI checkpoints, but they cannot use funds allocated by the state budget to pay for them.

The House and Senate voted Thursday to send that budget plan to Governor Eric Greitens (R), one day ahead of its constitutional deadline.

Legislature’s budget follows House lead; fully funds K-12 schools for first time

The state legislature has passed a budget proposal that for the first time fully funds the current form of the K-12 education funding formula.  The $27.7-billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would pump $48-million more dollars into the state’s public schools, providing them with nearly $3.4-billion.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The inclusion of full funding of the formula was a personal win for House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob).

“It was the number one thing I was going to figure out how to do when I released the [earliest version of the House’s budget proposal], was to fully fund the formula,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I made that decision early on.”

House Democrats including Representative Deb Lavender (Kirkwood) say they are pleased with the funding increase, but point out that the legislature passed last year a bill reinstating a cap on how much the formula can grow year-to-year.

“Yes we’re fully funding the foundation formula – at a rate of $450-million less than what the foundation formula would have been a year-and-a-half ago,” said Lavender.  “So, are we fully funding that?”

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

House Democrat Leader Gail McCann Beatty (Kansas City) said the budget included a “phantom fully funding of the formula.”

Republicans said reinstating that cap meant the formula would not continue to grow beyond what the legislature could appropriate.

“When the General Assembly took that cap off in 2010, starting at that point the formula has never been funded.  They tweaked the formula in a way that made it unfundable,” said Fitzpatrick.  “My contention would be that the formula that was agreed to in 2005, that everybody got in a room and worked out, is fully funded.”

The legislature’s proposal would also restore funding for school transportation, which Governor Eric Greitens (R) had proposed cutting.

The House and Senate voted to send that budget to Greitens Thursday, one day ahead of the constitutional deadline, and one day after selected House and Senate conferees finalized a compromise between each chamber’s proposals.

Legislature coming down to the wire this week on FY ’18 budget proposal

The legislature’s top responsibility enters its final push this week, as Friday is the constitutional deadline for it to propose a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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

Beginning tomorrow, selected House and Senate members will work to negotiate a compromise between each chamber’s budget proposals.  Any compromise the two sides reach must then be voted on by 6 p.m. Friday to be sent to Governor Eric Greitens (R).

The House proposed that the state should for the first time fully support the formula for funding K-12 schools.  Early discussions in the Senate suggested it would do otherwise, but it decided to follow suit.  That was the top priority for House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), and with both chambers agreeing on it, he says his priority now is clear.

“A balanced budget,” Fitzpatrick said.

Getting there by Friday, however, will be challenging.  The difference between the two chambers’ budget proposals is somewhere beyond $100-million.

Fitzpatrick said much of that difference is in projects the Senate added when they were planning not to fully fund the K-12 education formula.  When the Senate voted to instead fund the formula, it didn’t remove those projects.

“Now that the formula is funded, I think the projects are going to be tough to [pay for],” said Fitzpatrick.

Another substantial difference between the two proposals concerns “Es.”  For several years, legislative budget makers have used an “E” at the end of a budget line to represent an open-ended spending limit.  This was often used in places where predicting how much would be needed over the course of a fiscal year was particularly difficult, and it would allow an entity to exceed the budgeted amount if necessary.  The effort to remove Es began several years ago, and the House proposed a budget that completed that removal.

The Senate restored some Es to various places in the budget.  Fitzpatrick wants to remove those in the final compromise.  He said their presence in the Senate’s proposal also distorts how far apart the House and Senate plans are.

“So like for the budget reserve fund, we put a $25.5-million number in there.  The Senate put the E back on and made it $1, so that makes their budget actually appear $25.5-million smaller,” said Fitzpatrick.  “So really to compare apples to apples you have to add $25-million to their budget to see the difference.”

Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t know how many more such examples exist throughout the budget plans.

One line of particular importance to Fitzpatrick and others in the House is the state’s legal expense fund, which has had an E on it.  That line has been the focus of great legislative attention this year after the revelation that the Department of Corrections has settled millions of dollars in lawsuits in recent years in cases of employee harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

With an E on that line – the line from which comes the money for all settlements with the state – Corrections never had to come before a legislative committee to explain what was behind the multiple, large settlements.  Lawmakers say that kept them in the dark as to the environment and repeated issues in the Corrections Department.

The House’s proposal replaced that line with lines in the budgets of each state agency.  That meant any future settlement would come out of the involved agency’s budget, and if it had so many that it exceeded what the legislature appropriated, it would have to explain why to lawmakers.  The Senate returned the legal expense fund to being a single line in the budget.  Fitzpatrick and House members strongly want to see the House’s version restored.

House and Senate conferees begin meeting Tuesday morning.  Their goal is to have a compromise ready for each chamber to vote on by Friday.  Failure to meet the state Constitution’s deadline could mean legislators will have to meet in a special session, after the regular session ends on May 20, to complete a budget.

Missouri House to finalize its budget proposal this week

Legislators often say it is the one thing the General Assembly must do even if it does nothing else:  pass a balanced state budget.  This week the state House will take the latest step toward that end, when its members debate a budget proposal to be sent to the Senate for its consideration.

The Missouri House Budget Committee worked Tuesday to finalize the proposal it would send to the full chamber for debate that will happen this week.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
The Missouri House Budget Committee worked Tuesday to finalize the proposal it would send to the full chamber for debate that will happen this week. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick’s (R-Shell Knob) top priority when he was named House Budget Committee Chairman was to fully fund the formula for K-12 school funding.  This budget plan would do that.

“That’s going to continue to be my number one priority in the budget, and we did it without cutting the transportation program in K-12 that the governor recommended reducing,” said Fitzpatrick.

The bills would also not appropriate all of the money projected to be available, so that some will be left for expenses that are unforeseen or are greater than projected.  In recent years, the legislature and governor had to take care of such expenses in a mid-fiscal year, or supplemental, budget.

“We agreed with the governor and the Senate that no less than $100-million should be set aside for a possible supplemental request,” said Fitzpatrick.  “We also set another $100-million almost that is made up of Medicaid increases that the department requested that we did not fund, and we said, ‘Listen, we need you to do your best to hold down these expenses in Medicaid.”

The budget proposal would also maintain at their current level in-home Medicaid services to seniors and people with disabilities, assuming that a House bill to end a tax break for low-income seniors and disabled becomes law.  The money that bill would make available would go to the in-home care program.

House Democrats don’t like basing the support of the in-home care program on eliminating that tax break.  The lead Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Michael Butler, said his party came up with other options, and one of those would be to dip into that money set in reserve.

“Secondly, when there is over $50-million left in different state funds across the state, we think there are other ways to pay for it,” said Butler.

Representative Deb Lavender (right) proposed taking $6.85-million from a fund in the Attorney General's office and giving it to the state's public defenders.  (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Deb Lavender (right) proposed taking $6.85-million from a fund in the Attorney General’s office and giving it to the state’s public defenders. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats also want to preserve a change made to the budget proposal last week, when one of its members proposed shifting $6.85-million from the Attorney General’s Office to the state’s Public Defender System.  The Attorney General’s Office didn’t have representative in the hearing, and the budget committee approved the change.

The Public Defender’s Office wants a boost in state funding to hire more counsel, and to deal with what it’s told lawmakers is an “overload” of cases.   “We, along with quite a few Republicans, believe the public defender’s office is in dire need of those funds,” said Butler.

Fitzpatrick said there might be a statutory issue regarding that money beings shifted out of the Attorney General’s office.

“There’s still a long way to go for the budget and I think it’s entirely possible that that will be changed back,” said Fitzpatrick.

Butler said another priority for his party is to make sure Lincoln University gets enough money to maintain its land grant status.  He said the federal government has said Lincoln must have more matching funds in order to keep that status.

“We need to try to get as close to $6.1-million as possible.  We are putting up $2.5-million this year and we’re very hopeful that is enough equity to the federal government,” said Butler.  “Lincoln has for decades seen a disparity in funding.  It has never met the land grant match.  It has never been given proper funding.”

Butler said there is support from both parties for making sure Lincoln University keeps its land grant status.

The budget proposal would also fund a Medicaid asset limit increase, add money to the state’s senior centers, and restore some – but not all – cuts to higher education.

House passage would be just the latest stop for a Fiscal Year 2018 state budget.  From the House it would go to the Senate, which will likely propose changes to the House’s plan.  Once the two chambers agree on a budget, their proposal will go to Governor Greitens for his action.