House approves $21 billion budget

Friday, March 30, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The House approved a $21 billion state budget Thursday 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 $2.8 billion. It also adds $176 million for a proposed new health care system, called MO HealthNet, to replace Medicaid.

Democrats said those increases do not go far enough. They note the additional Medicaid spending does not restore health care to those whose coverage was dropped or reduced two years ago and that the education boost does not provide enough state assistance to local school districts.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, said he is pleased the budget has room for his proposed tax cut to many retirement benefits and would also leave about $200 million not budgeted, as a reserve, if his tax cut is narrowed to its original scope.

Controversy about whether to put almost $14 million into a special life sciences trust fund divided Republicans, passing by just four votes. Some critics of embryonic stem-cell research fear the fund will use state money for that research.

Lawmakers also stripped most state funding for Amtrak and shifted 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.

Funding for Amtrak has been a target for budget cuts in the past, particularly in the House. The budget now moves to the Senate, which 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 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.

Democrats said the shift was politically motivated and would just delay the defense but not remove responsibility from the attorney general's office to defend the fund.

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