House gives initial approval to $21 billion Missouri budget

Thursday, March 29, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The House debated early into the morning hours Thursday before giving initial approval to a $21 billion state budget that largely accepts the governor's budget recommendations in increasing funding for Medicaid and education.

The budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1, calls for Medicaid to get an additional $460 million to boost annual funding to $6.4 billion while the state formula for schools would be increased to $2.6 billion.

But much of the debate involved stripping most state funding for Amtrak, reducing and placing restrictions on the spending for money headed to a life sciences trust fund and shifting responsibility for defending payouts to disabled workers who suffer injuries on the job.

Lawmakers, through a series of amendments, took $6.3 million that would have gone to support the passenger train in Missouri while leaving $1.1 million for a transportation fund. But the Department of Transportation said it needs closer to $4 million to operate the train service and warned that the cut would endanger the rail line in Missouri after July 1, if the Senate does turn back the cut.

Funding for Amtrak has been a target for budget cuts in the past, particularly in the House. But the Senate typically has turned back those cuts.

Of the money budgeted for Amtrak, House members shifted $5.3 million to help school districts pay for rising busing costs; $640,000 to Lincoln University in Jefferson City; $300,000 for a video project that interviews war veterans; and $100,000 to a health clinic near Springfield.

The budget also gives $13.5 million for a trust fund designed to aid life sciences research. That fund was created in 2003 to funnel 25 percent of the state's yearly proceeds from a tobacco settlement into research. Lawmakers could first appropriate money into the fund last year, but concern about whether it would be used to support embryonic stem cell research prompted lawmakers not to include any money.

Under this year's budget, money from the life sciences trust fund would be limited to bioenergy, odor abatement and projects at the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, Gateway Fund and Animal Health Corridor.

The budget also moves from the attorney general's office money that is used to defend the state's Second Injury Fund. The fund, which is used to pay workers who suffer injuries on the job that worsen existing disabilities, would go to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Republicans say payouts from the fund have increased rapidly and questioned the ability of the attorney general's office to defend payments from the fund.

State law gives assistant attorney generals responsibility for defending the fund.


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