Missouri Senate panel OKs budget plan as May deadline looms

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A proposed Missouri budget plan approved by a Senate panel Thursday would make cuts to in-home and nursing care for disabled residents while slightly increasing money for public K-12 schools.

The version of the budget passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee would provide more basic aid for public elementary and secondary schools but still would fall about $40 million short of what's called for under state law, Chairman Dan Brown said. Brown, a Republican, added that he hopes to add more money for public schools before lawmakers send the bill to Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

Lawmakers face a May 5 deadline to pass a budget. They are up against a budget crunch as they work to craft a state spending plan for the fiscal year beginning in July. Revenues have been growing this year, but not by as much as needed to fully fund the current budget. Declining corporate tax revenues are part of the reason.

Greitens and House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Republican, also have cited growing spending demands, particularly by the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

The governor had initially recommended making cuts to in-home and nursing care for disabled residents as a way to address shortfalls. The latest budget proposal in the Senate, while cutting those services, would not do so as severely as Greitens proposed before he later backtracked.

Greitens' proposal would have meant more than 20,000 people could lose services, and there would have been less state help for those who pick their own in-home caregivers.

The budget proposal that the Senate panel approved also uses some funding that would come from cutting a tax break for low-income seniors and disabled renters, which House members voted to eliminate in order to save money and avoid in-home and nursing care cuts. The Department of Revenue estimates about 98,400 renters received $56.3 million in tax breaks from the program last fiscal year.

Senate Democrats spoke overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning to block a vote on the measure, criticizing the proposed cuts that some argued would put financial pressure on low-income seniors who struggle to get by.

Some Republican and Democratic senators instead want to phase out the tax break, saving some money initially but delaying the full effect to give seniors and disabled renters time to prepare.

Brown and Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe, also a Republican, said talks on the measure are ongoing. Brown said he's hopeful the tax break will be cut and more money can go to in-home and nursing services and K-12 education.

Other changes made to the proposed budget by the Senate committee include locking in a plan to expand managed care for Medicaid patients. Under a managed-care model, the state pays a private company to manage patients' health care. Missouri now also provides care through a fee-for-service model, which reimburses physicians as patients are treated.

The Senate panel also removed restrictions that House budgeters inserted to require records of flights on the state plane to be provided publicly on sites such as FlightAware. Another change would allow students with "unlawful immigration status" to receive state scholarship funds, and allow public colleges and universities to give students whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally as children to receive in-state tuition.


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