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Missouri lawmakers send $28 billion budget to Greitens

Left to right: Missouri state representatives Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, and Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, along with  House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, during Wednesday's final budget debates.
Tim Bommel | Missouri House Communications
Left to right: Missouri state representatives Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, and Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, along with House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, during Wednesday's final budget debates.

Despite distractions and conflict over Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens legal troubles, Missouri lawmakers were able to send him next year’s state budget two days before the mandatory 6 p.m. Friday deadline.

The spending plan for fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1, increases K-12 education funding by more than $98 million. The increase means public schools will be fully funded under the scaled-back definition that became law two years ago.

Some Democrats, including Rep. Doug Beck of St. Louis, accused the Republican majority of arbitrarily lowering the formula so that “everyone can feel better about themselves.”

“I liken it to if we had a 12-ounce glass that had eight ounces of water in it continuously – the legislature decided to use an eight-ounce glass and say the school funding formula is fully funded,” he said. “I don’t think we can say that our funding formula is fully funded when we have 18 school districts going four days a week in order to save money, and a lot of our school districts are using their foundation money to fund their transportation because that’s so poorly funded.”

But House budget chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, defended the revised formula, saying the recently-scrapped definition was growing so fast that the state would never be able to meet it.

“We are a state that is funding education at record levels, while we have teachers protesting [at] capitols in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky, and a constitutional funding crisis in Kansas,” he said.

The higher education budget raises tuition by 1 percent at most state universities, in exchange for eliminating a proposed $68 million cut sought by Greitens. Like last year’s budget, it also bars undocumented immigrants, including students covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, from receiving in-state tuition rates and scholarships.

Another portion of the budget bars abortion providers from accessing federal Medicaid dollars. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, blasted that provision during floor debate.

“Federal law says that patients covered by Medicaid have the right to choose any willing provider of their choice,” she said. “That’s federal Medicaid law, and this bill violates this.”

Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, chair of the Senate Appropriations committee.

State employees who are paid less than $70,000 a year will receive a $700 pay raise, while those making more than that will get a 1 percent increase. Those raises take effect Jan. 1, 2019. Department of Corrections workers will get an extra $350 on top of that.

“Correctional officers, it’s been a real problem with hiring and retaining, and [they’re] always understaffed,” said Senate appropriations chairman Dan Brown, R-Rolla. “These are 24-hour-a-day facilities, and it’s been a concern of mine that understaffed and serving two [shifts], 16 hours a day, someone’s going to get tired, get hurt, and it’s going to be a disaster.”

Meanwhile, eight positions are being eliminated at the Department of Health and Senior Services. House leaders forced that cut because the agency, citing privacy concerns, refuses to provide documents on a state worker who died last year from a tick-borne illness.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, opposed the move.

“We wanted that information and they didn’t give it to us, because their lawyers told them they could not,” he said.

Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, defended defunding the eight positions.

“I’m not going to bend to [the Department of Health’s] demand and their line of thinking on this when a resident of the state of Missouri and a [state] Parks employee passed away from bourbon virus, and have given us nothing — nothing — in terms of information,” he said.

The governor has until June 30 to sign the 13 budget bills into law.

Follow Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallGReport

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