Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ first budget, a $27.6 billion spending blueprint, appears to be a reasonable attempt to match the state’s spending with its slumping revenue.
With a few worrying exceptions.
The budget generally follows the outlines former Gov. Jay Nixon used: give some additional money to elementary and secondary schools, fund a handful of special-interest initiatives, and, above all else, avoid asking for a tax increase.
In announcing the plan, Greitens claimed savings of more than $572 million. Overall spending actually creeps higher, though, from $27.5 billion in the current fiscal year to $27.6 billion next year.
At that, there are cuts and savings. Underpaid state workers are asked to forgo raises. Economic development funds are reduced. There is less money for health and senior services and, surprisingly, a small reduction from last year’s appropriations for the Department of Corrections.
School bus transportation takes a hit. Services for the disabled are reduced, a particularly poor choice that lawmakers should study carefully.
At the same time, mental health spending will get a small boost, as will the state’s Department of Social Services. Medicaid will spend more than $1.7 billion this year just on medicines for patients, an astonishing figure.
There’s money in the budget for an opioid addiction program, rape prevention and implementing the risible voter ID program approved at the ballot box last year. Greitens, to his credit, has also promised to limit special-interest tax credits.
The biggest cut, more than $115 million in the general fund, will hit the state’s public colleges and universities. Higher education is on the hit list in virtually every state because revenues are lower than expected, and Missouri is no exception.
But starving universities will hurt Missouri families, who could face higher tuition costs.
Eventually, it will convince talented Missourians to seek opportunity in other states considered more friendly to technology and research. That, in turn, will make the state less successful.
The biggest problem with the budget, though, is what’s not in it: a plan for addressing the state’s woeful highways and bridges. The can has been firmly kicked down the deteriorating road.
We know: Missourians recoil in horror at higher fuel taxes. At some point, though, someone will need to pay to rebuild some of the country’s busiest thoroughfares. That time is now.
Maybe the governor is waiting on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan. While we’re watching for that, the roads crumble.