The Buzz

In his State of the State address, Gov. Jay Nixon outlines an aggressive spending plan

Updated: 2014-02-13T20:49:15Z

By JASON HANCOCK

The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent

— Missouri’s public schools and universities will see a nearly $500 million infusion of additional cash if Gov. Jay Nixon gets his way.

And nearly 300,000 Missourians would be added to the public health insurance program for the poor.

But in laying out an aggressive spending plan Tuesday in his State of the State address to legislators, Nixon drew the ire of Republican lawmakers. They said the Democratic governor paints a far too rosy picture of the health of Missouri’s budget.

The governor has said he wants to fully fund Missouri’s school formula before his term ends in three years. The state currently provides about $3 billion annually in basic aid for K-12 school. That’s about $600 million short of what’s called for under state law.

Nixon’s proposed budget calls for $278 million in additional funding for K-12 public schools, putting the state on pace to fully fund the formula next year.

“It’s time to decide whether we’re merely going to talk about public education or whether we’re going to fund it,” Nixon said.

He also called for an additional $20 million for the Missouri Preschool Program and nearly $60 million in funding for various other K-12 programs, such as expanding Internet broadband capacity for schools.

The funding increase extends to Missouri’s public universities and colleges, where Nixon calls for an additional $42.1 million in performance-based funding and $22 million for specific science, technology, engineering and math programs.

He also called on lawmakers to pump an additional $30 million into three scholarship programs.

“No student should have to settle for less education just because their parents make less money,” Nixon said.

In calling for an expansion of Medicaid — a key tenant of the federal Affordable Care Act — Nixon acknowledged the difficulty of passing anything associated with Obamacare in a Republican-dominated legislature.

“We all know there are problems with Obamacare, and Washington’s implementation of it has been abysmal,” Nixon said. “But rejecting Medicaid won’t fix any of those things.”

Nixon hopes to accept $1.7 billion in federal funds to expand Medicaid to 300,000 uninsured Missourians, a move that he said would save the state nearly $100 million.

But including savings associated with Medicaid expansion could prove troublesome. Republicans in the Senate have expressed little desire to add people to the program, arguing instead that it must be reformed.

If lawmakers don’t expand Medicaid, the projected savings will have to be cut out of the budget.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, said Nixon is “probably overspending by at least $250 million. … I do not believe what the governor presented is anywhere close to being balanced.”

Nixon and Republican legislative leaders can’t even agree on how much money the state has to spend.

House and Senate leaders agreed on a general revenue figure of $8.59 billion for the 2015 fiscal year that starts July 1 — a growth of 4.2 percent from the current year. But Nixon said Monday that he expects Missouri to take in about $120 million more than that.

“You just listened to the governor promise hundreds of millions of dollars to at least half a dozen different state programs, the money for which House and Senate economists have agreed that we do not have,” said House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, a Kirkwood Republican.

Further inflaming Republican legislators, Nixon flatly dismissed any calls to enact sweeping income tax cuts.

“I will not support anything that takes money out of our classrooms,” Nixon said.

The governor and a coalition of education groups last summer rallied opposition to a Republican-backed tax cut proposal. The idea ultimately died when lawmakers couldn’t override Nixon’s veto.

Among his other proposals, Nixon called for passage of a law barring discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people in the workplace.

He also called for the reinstatement of campaign contribution limits and “comprehensive ethics reform,” changes to a state law that has forced unaccredited school districts to pay for students to transfer and a “robust discussion” about how to pay for the state’s long-term infrastructure needs.

Nixon’s budget also calls for an additional $6 million to improve Missouri’s child welfare division, which has been plagued with high turnover, overwhelming caseloads and low pay. The money would be used to hire 23 new employees.

Freelance writer Allison Prang contributed to this report. To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to jhancock@kcstar.com.

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