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Nixon lauds Missouri Senate version of state budget, which restores aid program for the blind

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 25, 2012 - The Missouri Senate restored the state’s longstanding aid program for the blind in its version of the state’s $24 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. 

The Senate acted early Wednesday, after nine senators had ended their efforts to stall proceedings in order to get further budget trims. Most of the nine, however, voted in favor of restoring the program for the blind, which had been slashed in the House’s version of the budget.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, sponsored the restoration amendment.  “The budget from the Missouri House cut health care to 2,800 blind Missourians,” he said. “This is unacceptable. These individuals are some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The Senate and the House will now engage in negotiations to resolve their budget differences. The state constitution requires that a budget be presented to the governor by May 11.

By a narrow 17-15 vote, the Senate approved a pay hike for state workers who earn under $45,000 a year. The House would allow 2 percent increases for those earning up to $70,000.  Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed budget had called for an across-the-board pay increase, noting state workers have gone without a raise since 2009.

The House and Senate also have stripped from the budget a proposed $50 million upgrade to the state’s Medicaid computer system, even though it would be largely funded by the federal government, because Republican leaders believe it would help in the implementation of the federal health care changes, known as Obamacare, that Republicans oppose.

In a statement Wednesday, Nixon ignored any differences and focused on the Senate’s action regarding the blind.

“I commend the Missouri Senate for adopting Sen. Jim Lembke’s amendment to restore full funding for the state’s health care program for needy, blind Missourians,” the governor said. “For decades, Missouri has provided this efficient and compassionate program that offers essential health care services for blind Missourians with very limited financial means. I urge the General Assembly to send me a budget that maintains full funding for this vital lifeline.”

Also lauding the Senate's action was state Rep. Scott, Sifton, D-Affton, one of Lembke's Democratic opponents. “We called on Senator Lembke to restore the cuts and it happened.” Sifton said. “It is clear that the pressure we applied made a difference for some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

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.