The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 25, 2012

Mo. Senate budget funds pay hikes, blind benefits

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate signed off on a $24 billion budget plan early Wednesday that would provide a raise to the lowest-paid state workers in the nation and spare blind residents from a potential cut to their government-funded health care plan.

Senate passage of the budget came only after a coalition of nine Republican senators agreed to drop a two-day stalling effort when they gained a variety of concessions that did relatively little to change the bottom line of the proposed spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In fact, after talking about the need for more cuts, some of the dissident Republican senators failed in an effort to strip the employee pay raise and then provided the winning margin on a vote to add money to the blind health care program.

It was unclear if the budget passed by the Senate was balanced.

“I think it’s close,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

The Republican-led Legislature faces a May 11 constitutional deadline to send a final budget to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. A conference committee of House and Senate negotiators could start meeting as soon as next week to reconcile the differences between the Senate budget and a version passed last month by the House.

Both chambers’ versions would hold funding flat for public colleges and universities, opting against a cut recommended by Nixon, and would provide a slight increase in basic state aid for public K-12 school districts. Because those education items are the same in both versions, that funding essentially is locked in for the final version of Missouri’s budget.

Nixon originally had proposed a 2 percent raise for all state employees, regardless of their income, that would not have begun until Jan. 1, 2013, which is halfway through the next fiscal year. As passed by the House, the proposed budget would have provided a 2 percent pay raise — to begin July 1 — for workers earning up to $70,000 annually. That was scaled back by the Senate to apply to employees earning up to $45,000 annually, a threshold that would cover about 82 percent of Missouri’s workforce.

According to 2010 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Missouri ranked last among all states with an average yearly salary of $36,985 for its state employees, excluding those who work at public colleges and universities. Missouri employees have not received a general pay increase since 2009.

“We’ve got state employees who are basically the working poor,” said Schaefer, a proponent of the proposed pay hike.

Senators voted 17-15 to defeat an amendment by Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey that would have eliminated the pay raise. Dempsey offered the amendment after negotiations with the nine dissident Republicans, who had targeted the pay raise as part of a list of about a dozen changes they sought. Dempsey expressed concern that state revenues — particularly from the Missouri Lottery — might not meet expectations and that the pay raise would come at the expense of other state services.

“I’m just trying to be realistic. You can’t spend money you don’t have,” said Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

Despite voicing concerns the budget was out of balance, seven of the nine senators who had stalled the budget later joined a narrow majority of colleagues in an 18-16 vote to restore funding for the blind health care benefits. The roughly $28 million program provides health coverage to 2,858 blind people who earn too much to qualify for the state’s traditional Medicaid program for the poor.

The House had voted to scrap the blind health care program and replace it with a new, significantly slimmed down version. The Senate Appropriations Committee had taken a different approach earlier this month, opting to fund the current program with $18 million in general revenues, $1.4 million from another source and cover the remaining gap by charging participants premiums, co-payments and deductibles.

The amendment approved Wednesday added $8.6 million to the program, essentially restoring it to its current level.

“The blind should have their shot to be fully funded,” just like the University of Missouri or state employees desiring raises, said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, a leader among the group of Republicans that had pushed for additional budget changes.

Nixon, who has decried possible budget cuts to the blind health care program as “dead wrong,” urged lawmakers Wednesday to keep full funding.

“For decades, Missouri has provided this efficient and compassionate program that offers essential health services for blind Missourians with very limited financial means,” Nixon said.

The budget passed by the Senate also drops a proposed cut — which had been endorsed by the Senate Appropriations Committee — to eliminate subsidized child care for an estimated 3,860 children and reduce subsidies for an additional 2,330 children.

Also squeezed out of the budget by both the House and Senate was a proposed $50 million expenditure of federal grants to update the computer system used by Missouri’s Medicaid system. Few deny that the new system would make it easier for people to enroll, reduce the potential for fraud and allow for more effective data analysis. But the nine dissident Republicans fought to keep the money out of the budget because of a concern that it could serve as the framework for the eventual implementation of a health insurance exchange under the new federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama.

 

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Ballot issues dominate GOP event

    A maze of campaign yard signs lined the sidewalk at Big Spring Park, leading up to a line of local candidates for public office with rolled-up sleeves shaking hands with potential voters.

    July 24, 2014

  • Mike Pound: It’s time for some football

    The arrests, the announced suspensions and the contract disputes can mean only one thing: Somebody is ready for some football.

    July 24, 2014

  • Landfill opponents seek answers

    The Baxter Springs High School auditorium was filled with hundreds of Cherokee County residents Thursday night as Galena city officials answered questions and listened to comments regarding a proposed landfill at Riverton.

    July 24, 2014

  • Hanaway says leadership missing under Gov. Nixon

    When Republican gubernatorial hopeful Catherine Hanaway walked into the banquet room at Granny Shaffer’s Restaurant this week, she was greeted by some of Joplin’s more prominent business leaders.

    July 24, 2014

  • Neosho athletes bring home silver

    For 19-year-old Dominque Dechant, it was the trip of a lifetime. She and three other athletes from Neosho traveled last month to Newark, New Jersey, as part of the Missouri Special Olympics girls basketball team.

    July 24, 2014

  • r072414msw.jpg VIDEO: Carterville company expands to third generation

    What began as Ray “Mac” McCoy’s side job in his home 55 years ago has grown not only in square footage and reach, but in generations. This summer, a third generation took over the reins of MSW — Mac’s Specialty Woodwork — that now exceeds 90,000 square feet and creates custom furniture for chain restaurants coast to coast.

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Shrine Bowl band, cheerleaders, players arrive in Pittsburg this week

    Band members were the first Kansas Shrine Bowl participants to arrive at Pittsburg State University this week.

    July 24, 2014

  • Galena council rescinds landfill decisions

    The Galena City Council voted Wednesday to rescind decisions it made two weeks ago regarding a proposed landfill at Riverton.

    July 23, 2014

  • Miami council waives fees for barbecue event

    The Miami City Council voted Tuesday to waive $3,750 in usage fees for Miami Elks Lodge No. 1320 for an upcoming barbecue championship at the Miami Fairgrounds.

    July 23, 2014

  • Carthage prepares for Marian Days

    The 37th annual Marian Days celebration will start in two weeks, and planning is well under way for the event that will bring tens of thousands of Catholics of Vietnamese descent to Carthage.

    July 23, 2014

Must Read
Sports
Photos


Facebook
Poll

Amendment 8 in Missouri proposes a special lottery ticket to help fund state veterans homes. How will you vote?

For it.
Against it.
     View Results
Opinion
Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter