A plan worked out in the Senate to prevent 8,000 elderly and disabled Missourians from losing state assistance for in-home and nursing home care appears to have fallen apart in the House.
House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, balked at a Senate plan that authorized a review of special state funds to find excess money that could be used to raise $35.4 million to avoid the cuts to in-home and nursing home care.
He argued the idea is unworkable and would throw the budget out of balance.
“We’re blowing a $35 million hole in the budget if we took that bill up and pass it,” Fitzpatrick said, later adding: “Every movement of funds in the budget requires an appropriation. So there was no way for the fund transfer to occur unless the General Assembly were to come into session and make appropriations.”
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On Thursday, with a little more than a day before the state constitution requires the legislature to adjourn for the year, Fitzpatrick declared the Senate plan dead.
He attached an alternative plan to a bill pertaining to donations to soup kitchens or homeless shelters.
Fitzpatrick’s plan says that if the state hits its revenue estimates that the budget was built on, which is roughly 3 percent growth over last year, then all excess revenue will be put toward restoring cuts to in-home and nursing home care.
“How much do we have to grow for that to happen?” Fitzpatrick said. “If we grow 3.44 percent, we will have enough money. As of today, we’ve grown 3.47 percent. If we trend the way we have so far, money will end up in the fund.”
In response to the House plan, a bipartisan group of senators — including Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, Senate Appropriations Chairman Dan Brown and Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh — held a press conference to urge passage of the Senate plan.
“The House is gambling on the backs of our senior citizens on a pipe dream,” Brown said.
Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Kansas City Republican who help craft the Senate’s plan, didn’t mince words on Fitzpatrick’s proposal.
“It’s dumb,” Silvey said.
The way Fitzpatrick’s proposal is drafted, Silvey said, the state would actually have to collect $44 million more than the revenue estimate before any additional funds would go toward in-home and nursing home care.
“That’s never going to happen,” Silvey said. “I don’t know anyone who actually believes that will happen.”
Fitzpatrick said the $44 million Silvey cited represents legal settlements and other collections, such as a recent settlement with Volkswagen, that are part of the overall revenue estimate on which the budget was built.
As for Fitzpatrick’s contention that the Senate plan is not constitutional, Silvey said that “unless he’s wearing a black robe and works across the street (in the Supreme Court building), I don’t think his interpretation matters.”
Rep. Kevin Engler, a Farmington Republican, put the potential cuts to in-home and nursing home care in the lap of the Senate. He spoke in favor of Fitzpatrick’s plan and slammed the Senate’s decision to refuse to go to conference to negotiate a compromise, saying they were unwilling to alter “their unconstitutional plan.”
Rep. Michael Butler, a St. Louis Democrat, said the House should have been doing what the Senate called for all along. Especially, he said, since budget negotiators insisted on leaving $100 million unspent in the budget to cover any unexpected expenses.
And he said he thinks a majority of his fellow state representatives likely agree.
“What the Senate did can work,” he said. “That’s why they did it. That’s why we’re not bringing that bill up for a vote today, because most folks might actually agree with it.”
Fitzpatrick’s plan was approved on a voice vote, and the underlying legislation was sent to the Senate.
“I have to vote for this, but it’s not nearly as good a plan as was offered by the Senate,” said Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat. “I don’t think it’s the right approach.”
The debate began in late February, when Gov. Eric Greitens’ proposed budget called for saving $52 million by requiring people to display more severe disabilities to qualify for in-home care or nursing home services. The result would have been 20,000 people losing state aid.
By the time the budget was sent to the governor’s desk, the House insisted that half the cuts be rolled back while the other half remain unless the Senate repealed a property tax credit for low-income seniors who rent their homes. Nearly 8,000 people would lose state aid under that plan.
A Democratic filibuster ensured that the tax credit repeal could not pass the Senate. So Silvey and Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, offered the fund sweep idea as an alternative.
Butler noted that the fund sweep was originally pitched as an idea to avoid the in-home and nursing home care cuts last month by Rep. Deb Lavender, a St. Louis County Democrat.
If a deal isn’t worked out before 6 p.m. Friday, then 8,000 elderly and disabled Missourians who currently receive state aid would be cut from the program. Both the Senate and House seem unwilling to sign off on the other side’s plan.
“I think that what we provided here is an opportunity for these services to be funded without unbalancing the budget,” Fitzpatrick said.
Silvey said the 8,000 people who may lose services should ask why the House leaders refused to tap into the $100 million left unspent in the budget.
“That’s what you’re going to tell people you’re cutting off of services,” Silvey said, “that you only have $100 million left?”