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Parson Says Budget Will Be Cut If Medicaid Tax Isn’t Passed

Missouri Governor Mike Parson addresses senators and an audience gathered in the view gallery during his State of the State address on Wednesday, January 27, 2021.
File photo / Daniel Shular
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers his State of the State address on Jan. 27 in the Senate Chambers of the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Parson said that lawmakers need to come up with an agreement before he calls a special session on a tax that helps fund Medicaid.

Gov. Mike Parson said he’s working with lawmakers on resolving a deadlock over a critical tax that funds Missouri’s Medicaid program.

Hashing out differences, Parson said, is needed, though, before he calls a special session. And he said failure to pass what’s known as the Federal Reimbursement Allowance could lead to big consequences for the state’s budget.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to walk in here with some plan in place before I ever call a special session,” Parson said to reporters in Olivette on Thursday. “I've been pretty clear about that to everyone, to leadership and the members. If we don’t have some sort of compromise or some sort of agreement, I’m not calling a special session. Clock’s ticking.”

Missouri lawmakers failed to renew the FRA when session ended in mid-May. It’s a tax that places like hospitals pay as a way to get federal money for Medicaid — and, in turn, allows the state to use general revenue dollars that would have gone to the program to other pursuits.

Renewing the FRA is typically a routine affair, but this year it got tangled up in a debate over funding Planned Parenthood and certain types of contraception. Parson said, “every day we’re working on that and trying to find a solution.”

“One of the things I’ve always been able to do in my career is figure out how to bring people to the table and how you get resolution to a problem,” Parson said. “But this is a very serious problem, and we have to find an answer.”

The governor said that without resolution before July 1, he’ll have to take money from other things in the state budget. And he also said if the matter isn’t resolved before the FRA expires in September, it could have dramatic consequences for the state’s health care system.

“I don’t think there’s any question about if we don’t get the FRA, you’re talking about a $1 to $2 billion shortfall,” Parson said. “It would be devastating if we don’t get that done. And plus the formula we use has been in place for almost 30 years. If we have to go back and redo that formula, we won’t get as many tax dollars. And that’s not just for one specific group. That’s for everybody: for seniors, for children, for a lot of people who really need those services.”

Senator Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, answers questions from reporters when a press conference ends after the senate was adjourned on the final day of the session at the Missouri State Capitol Building on Friday, May 14, 2021, in Jefferson City.
Daniel Shular
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles, answers questions from reporters after the Senate adjourned on the final day of the session at the Missouri State Capitol Building on May 14.

Deadlock over Planned Parenthood and contraception

One of the problems for lawmakers who want to get the FRA issue settled quickly is that the conservative senators who pushed for their amendments in the regular session aren’t going to just give up in the special session.

Sen. Bob Onder, who sought to place language in the FRA barring taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood, said Thursday he expects the issue to arise even if lawmakers agree ahead of time it’s not going to be in any compromise.

“I have been involved in those negotiations, but there’s nothing final right now,” he said.

Onder said Republicans frequently included language in the state budget prohibiting funds from going to Planned Parenthood. He said putting that language in statute is necessary because of a court decision barring lawmakers from using the budget process to achieve that goal.

“I don’t think it would have been that difficult,” Onder said. “And yet, over and over again the FRA without the pro-life language kept getting brought to the floor for really reasons that I could never really understand even though I tried to talk to people and find out.”

And Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County, who wants to block Medicaid from paying for several forms of contraception, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this week he wouldn’t predict whether his verbiage would be considered during a special session.

Some House members have suggested that members of the Senate who are divided over the FRA issue need to hash out their differences on the floor. Rep. Jason Chipman, R-Steelville, said earlier this month that Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden should let Wieland and Onder filibuster until either there’s a compromise or they give up.

“There are the means to either come up with a compromise or get the FRA passed without Sen. Wieland’s amendment,” Chipman said on a recent edition of Politically Speaking. “It just takes some willingness on the behalf of Senate leadership to actually make it happen.”

House Majority Leader Dean Plocher added the House passed several versions of the FRA during session, and said it’s up to the Senate to avert the negative consequences of not getting that issue done.

“Whether the governor chooses to call a special session is of course up to him, and I think he’s in a difficult spot,” said Plocher, R-Des Peres. “He’s asked for special sessions in the past that haven’t, perhaps, gone as the way they were envisioned. Saying the House or the Senate would come to some sort of resolution prior to going into a special session is difficult when in fact the House has already passed a FRA bill.

“I think we can,” he added. “It’s up to the Senate.”

Members of the Missouri House work on the last day of the 2021 legislative session on May 14, 2021.
Daniel Shular
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Members of the Missouri House work on the last day of the 2021 legislative session on May 14.

Parson noncommittal on other special sessions

While it is likely that Parson will end up calling a special session on the FRA issue, the only other issue that he’s committed to calling for extra legislative time is congressional redistricting. That will take place after Missouri gets census data later in the year, likely in either August or September.

He said he’s not sure when he will call that special session.

“We’re going to be trying to push the Biden administration to truly try to get that information out a little quicker,” Parson said. “That’s late in the game to be getting that out.”

Parson told reporters that he’s not going to commit to calling special sessions on a host of other issues, including election-related items, eminent domain regulations and efforts to punish cities that reduce their police budgets.

“It’s kind of unfortunate we’ve had so many requests for special sessions when we’ve been two or three weeks out,” Parson said. “It’s what the session’s about: The session is about getting things done. If you don’t get it done, you don’t get it done. But in order to call a special session really should be for something a little bit of a higher demand. A special session is just that. And a lot of these things right now probably don’t meet that threshold.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.