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Missouri money problems eased by almost $400 million in new federal help

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 13, 2010 -2Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was quick to thank the U.S. House Tuesday for its vote in favor of a bill allocating $26 billion to the states to stem projected teacher layoffs and Medicaid cuts, in the wake of the continued economic downturn.

In Missouri's case, more than half of its expected share will go toward the next fiscal year's budget, said state Budget Director Linda Luebbering in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

The unexpected federal help should soften Luebbering's previous warnings about the state's possible dire financial circumstances in fiscal 2012, which begins next July 1, because that budget would be the first without help from an earlier bloc of federal stimulus aid.

Luebbering's office estimates that Missouri's federal share will amount to $209.3 million in health care money -- to help cover Medicaid costs -- and $189 million for education.

She said that a prior agreement with the GOP-controlled Legislature mandates that the $209.3 million be used solely in the 2012 budget over the next year. The money will help pay for existing Medicaid benefits and won't provide any additional coverage.

As for the education aid, Luebbering said that state officials are now examining the federal requirements and restrictions to see when and how the money can be used.

Said Nixon in a statement: "I am appreciative that Congress and the White House recognize that the states are facing ongoing fiscal challenges to provide essential services. While not a solution to all those challenges, the federal funding we will receive through this bill will allow us to continue moving forward with the economic recovery already underway.

"In the coming weeks and months, we will work with legislative and education leaders to discuss how this extension of stabilization funding can help us continue on the road of long-term economic recovery and growth."

Also lauding the vote was the region's senior Democrat in the U.S. House, William Lacy Clay of St. Louis, who voted for the package.

Said Clay afterward: "Today, Democrats in the U.S. House stepped up to save over 300,000 American jobs and help hard-strapped states maintain vital health care for our most vulnerable citizens. We accomplished that at no additional cost to the taxpayer. While our Republican friends engaged in political nonsense, we acted to keep qualified teachers in classrooms and help keep health clinics open. That is not pandering to special interests, it is acting to protect every American’s vital interests.”

But U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country, is not happy with the House's action. He announced earlier this week that he would vote against the extra state help, which he called "tantamount to institutionalized theft."

"It wasn't easy but our Legislature balanced Missouri's budget," the congressman said, ignoring the fact that the state balanced its last two budgets with the help of more than $1 billion in earlier federal aid. "Yet today's bill will force Missourians -- and all Americans -- to spend the next decade paying off six months of new spending, most of which will benefit states that had neither the courage nor the wisdom to balance their own budgets."

All of Missouri's Republican members of Congress present for the vote opposed the measure. U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield and now the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate, missed the vote -- but a spokeswoman said he also would have opposed the aid. Blunt was campaigning in Missouri.

The Missouri Democratic Party swiftly jumped on Blunt's no-show. State party chairman Craig Hosmer said in a statement, “The fact that Roy Blunt could not even show up to support Missouri jobs speaks volumes about his priorities, and his Missouri Republican colleagues ended up voting against jobs for the people they represent. It makes no sense for Republicans to vote against lowering the federal deficit and saving over 3,000 jobs in our state. They are doing nothing more than playing politics at the expense of hard-working Missourians and their families."

Blunt's rival for the U.S. Senate, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, applauded the House's action -- and also knocked her opponent. “This was the right thing to do," she said. "Today’s vote was about supporting those who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe and educating our kids and the fact that Congressman Blunt twisted arms to give $700 billion of our money to bail out Wall Street, but didn’t bother to even show up and vote on this is another example of how he’s become the very worst of Washington.”

Wednesday afternoon, Blunt's campaign finally fired back at his Democratic critics and Carnahan.

"Robin Carnahan has already rubberstamped more than $3 trillion in new big government spending, including the failing $862 billion so-called 'stimulus' bill, the more than $2 trillion government takeover of health care, the $150 billion bank bailout in the financial regulatory bill and $42.6 billion in new taxes and spending for a 'jobless' bill,'' Blunt's campaign said. "Now she's supporting another $26.1 billion bailout for states that have failed to manage their budgets so they can kick the can down the road another year. Missourians are saying 'enough is enough.' "

The $26 billion measure was approved last week by the U.S. Senate. Among the supporters was Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., had sided with Republican opponents.

After Tuesday's House vote, the House adjourned until September. The Senate already is in recess.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.