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How the Missouri General Assembly's budget differs from governor's proposals

With permission of Marie French | St. Louis Post-Dispatch | 2014

The Missouri General Assembly’s early action on the state budget – approving it two weeks ahead of schedule – sets the stage for a particularly frantic last week of the legislative session.

It also effectively ends the chance for expansion of Medicaid in Missouri during the three-year period that the federal government would pick up the whole tab.

The budget’s early passage means Gov. Jay Nixon will have to act on the budget particulars – either by signing them into law or issuing vetoes – by May 8. The General Assembly then will have a full week to try to override any of his vetoes before it adjourns on May 15.

Such disputes could be lively since the Republican-controlled General Assembly has different spending priorities than Nixon, a Democrat.

This is a good budget, it has been thoroughly vetted and we are comfortable with it. -- House Speaker John Diehl, R, Town and Country

The budget is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.  Although it totals more than $26 billion, the General Assembly and Nixon actually have control over only about $8 billion. Most of the rest is federal money over which the state has little control, or special allocations, such as the designated sales tax that provides money for the Department of Conservation.

This budget also is the first one affected by the constitutional change, known as Amendment 10, that was approved by voters last November.

The amendment curbs the governor’s powers regarding the budget and allows the General Assembly the unquestionable right to overrule his line-item vetoes. That power had been in dispute in earlier years.

Democrats contend that Republican leaders pushed swift passage of the budget -- it's the earliest approval in history, some say -- to keep the public in the dark about some of its painful cuts or omissions until it's too late.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said the aim was to end the "summers of discontent'' where Nixon traveled the state to build support for his budget decisions before legislators' annual veto sessions in September.

Cuts affect federal aid, cannot be restored

While the governor can veto spending, he can’t restore any cuts that the General Assembly has made.

Legislators trimmed roughly $40 million from Nixon’s proposed state spending for various social-service programs. The biggest hit appears to be in the existing Medicaid program, which primarily provides health care coverage for low-income children, the disabled and low-income elderly.

Republicans have abandoned fiscal responsibility in favor of political theater. -- House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D, St. Louis

But those cuts mean the state also loses the matching federal aid. State budget director Linda Luebbering says about $50 million in federal money will be lost. That means the budget cut in social services for the coming fiscal year will actually total about $90 million, she said.

Luebbering said the heads of the various social-service departments are still studying what cuts in programs, services or staff will need to be made.

The social service trims are the primary difference between the General Assembly’s budget and that proposed by Nixon in January.

No expansion of Medicaid

While some advocates of Medicaid expansion are continuing to lobby legislators, the General Assembly’s early approval of a budget effectively blocks any chance of a change of heart this year.

Although sought by the governor, no expansion of Medicaid would be allowed under the FY2016 budget.

The federal government had offered the state $2 billion a year, beginning in 2014, to expand the state’s program to cover roughly 300,000 more people, primarily low-income working adults.

The FY2016 budget would run through June 30, 2016. Federal money had been available to cover all the costs of the expansion for the first three years, through 2016.  After that, federal money would cover most of the costs, but some would have to be picked up by the state.

The upshot: Missouri is forgoing about $6 billion in federal money. Democrats and Republicans disagree on whether it's right to do so.

Here’s a comparison of the current FY2015 budget, Nixon’s proposed budget, and the version approved by the General Assembly.


Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.