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Missouri House Committee Passes State Budget For FY2015

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio
Mo. House Budget Cmte. working on the state's 13 bills that make up FY2015 budget.

House budget writers have passed Missouri's state budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins July 1.

The roughly $28 billion spending plan still includes a funding increase for the state's K-12 schools, which would be around $122 million if projections by House and Senate Republican leaders turn out to be correct.  If Gov. Jay Nixon's rosier revenue picture turns out to be correct, then K-12 spending would increase by $278 million.

Medicaid expansion blocked again

The House Budget Committee discussed and voted out all 13 budget bills Wednesday and fielded several proposed amendments, including two to expand Medicaid.  They were both sponsored by state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur.

"I take advantage of every opportunity I have to talk about the importance of the expansion of Medicaid in the state of Missouri," Schupp said.  "Our hospitals, particularly our rural hospitals, our social workers, our Missouri Chamber (of Commerce), our doctors, our do-gooders, and most importantly the people of Missouri have said 'do this!'"

Schupp's first attempt to expand Medicaid would have increased the state's allocation by $21.3 million and drawn down $102 million in federal funds.  The second attempt was much larger: It would have raised the state's Medicaid allocation by $53.6 million and would have drawn down $1.64 billion from Washington. Both attempts were voted down.

Battle over Ozarks National Scenic Riverways

Democrats also tried, but failed, to block $6 million from being used to operate the Ozarks National Scenic Riverways in the event that it becomes a state park.  U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Cape Girardeau, has filed federal legislation to remove the rivers from the National Parks Service. State Rep. Chris Kelly of Columbia, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee, strongly criticized the idea of a state takeover.

"This is not just happening in Missouri," Kelly said.  "There are similar efforts in Shenandoah (National Park) in Virginia (and) in Zion (National Park) in Utah…this is a concerted effort to destroy the National Park system in the United States of America, and the people of this state will not put up with it."

Republicans on the committee argued that the new management plan proposed for that Ozarks National Riverways is too restrictive and would harm the local economy. 

"What's been going on is a continual restriction on usage of that area," said state Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa.  "The direction we've seen from the National Park Service is flawed and too restrictive, and I think that it is important for us at this time to send a message to the federal government that we would like to take control of this area."

Six amendments would have blocked using state funds to operate a new state park at the current Ozark National Scenic Riverways; none was adopted.

Concealed-carry controversy not forgotten

Another partisan issue that took shape as a budget amendment would de-fund the salaries of the directors of the Department of Revenue and the Motor Vehicles Division. Democrats called the move political payback over last year's controversy over scanning driver's licenses. (The department was embroiled in controversy last year over whether information on drivers licenses, including conceal-carry permits, was forwarded to the federal government.)

"I have a problem when we have our state employees, probably the lowest paid in the nation, I really have trouble with this method of -- I don't know -- getting even or trying to send a message," said state Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Groves.

The sponsor, Republican Robert Ross of Yukon, Mo., denied that his amendment was an attempt to get even with Nixon over the political dustup.

"When you see an absolute lack of concern in the way that the policies are developed within some of these state agencies for the concern of the citizens that they're reported to serve, I think that this is an alternative," Ross said.

The amendment passed on a voice vote.  Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, says that means, for now, that the DOR and DMV heads would be "working for free" during Fiscal Year 2015.

Nixon denied any wrongdoing and last year signed a law banning the practice of scanning documents of driver's license applicants.

Education amendments

The Republican majority on the Budget Committee also added language to the higher education budget to bar in-state tuition to college students in the United States illegally.

"I'm one of the apparently crazy Republicans who think that we should reform immigration at the federal level, (but) we haven't done that yet and I don't know if that's going to happen any time soon," said state Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.  "While I completely understand the emotional argument, the law is not an emotional thing.... What this does is provide clarity to our higher education institutions as to how they conduct their business in this regard...whether we like it or not, these folks are not here legally."

Democrats opposed the amendment.

"This really gets in the way of a positive outcome that we want to see by trying to charge these students who for all intents and purposes have lived here, have grown up here, just like all of us have, and who want to participate and move themselves and their families forward," Schupp said.

Schupp, meanwhile, sponsored an amendment to the K-12 budget to cut $1 million from Missouri's Teach for America program, which recruits people to teach in low-income communities for two years.

"That money goes for the administration of the program," Schupp said.  "None of that money goes directly to any of our teachers to help with their salaries."

Stream defended the program, saying that Teach for America teachers were a great help to Normandy schools and outperformed the district's tenured teachers.

Tourism, invasive species

Budget writers easily approved a less controversial amendment that would shift $200,000 from tourism to adoption resource centers in St. Louis and Kansas City.  State Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, summed up the feelings of most committee members when he said, "I hate to see it coming from tourism, but how can you go against kids?"  It was sponsored by state Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City.

A few amendments that deal with invasive species were approved.  One would provide $500,000 for the eradication of the Asian carp, which has been spreading through the Mississippi and Missouri river systems for years.  Another would spend just over $413,000 on eradicating the multiflora rose plant, which was introduced to combat erosion but is now a threat to pastures.  Both were included in the so-called MEGA amendment, which combined numerous budget items generally considered to be routine.  That amendment also contained $60,000 for public radio and television stations in Missouri.

The full Missouri House is scheduled to take up the state budget when lawmakers return from their spring break, which begins Friday.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.