Government & Politics

Gov. Eric Greitens’ budget cuts aid to elderly and disabled

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens delivered an outline of his state budget Thursday at an early childhood center in Nixa, Mo.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens delivered an outline of his state budget Thursday at an early childhood center in Nixa, Mo. The Associated Press

Gov. Eric Greitens laid out his plan for the state’s $27.6 billion budget on Thursday, including an end to in-home care and nursing home services for more than 20,000 people with disabilities.

Greitens, a first-term Republican, outlined his budget plan in a speech at a preschool near Springfield. He placed the blame for Missouri’s budget woes on “politicians, lobbyists and Obamacare” — a familiar theme from his 2016 campaign — and vowed to make the “difficult choices.”

“The lobbyists and insiders won’t be happy with some of what’s in this budget,” he said, “and that’s because this is a conservative, responsible budget that tries to do right by Missouri’s people.”

Among the cost-cutting measures in the governor’s budget is $52 million he plans to save by making it harder for people with disabilities to quality for in-home and nursing care.

Greitens didn’t mention the change in his budget speech Thursday afternoon, but during a meeting with the media later in the day, acting Budget Director Dan Haug provided an example.

A person who is diabetic with high cholesterol, has to see a physician each month and has a complex drug regimen currently qualifies, Haug said, but would lose assistance under the governor’s budget.

For that person to qualify under Greitens’ budget, Haug said, he or she would also have to need assistance with bathing and require more frequent physician visits.

Haug also confirmed that the governor also is proposing a 3 percent cut in the reimbursement rates paid to Medicaid health care providers.

Under the governor’s proposal, colleges and universities will receive $100 million less in the fiscal year that begins July 1 than they were budgeted to receive this year. That’s a 10 percent reduction, but a large chunk of that cut has already been put in place.

The state’s K-12 schools will get about $3 million more than they received last year, but the grand total of nearly $3.3 billion in spending still falls more than $40 million short of what’s called for under state law. Greitens also wants $36 million in cuts in funding for school transportation.

House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Kansas City Democrat, said the cuts to school transportation budgets are particularly troubling because they will result in less money making it to Missouri’s classrooms.

“Lets face it, guys, we’ve got to get the kids to school,” McCann Beatty said. “That has to be paid for one way or another. If you’re not providing it, they’re going to pull it from somewhere.”

The budget proposal does include $2 million to help fund online courses for students in school districts that don’t offer advance placement classes, and $13 million to cover the costs of providing special education services to students with disabilities.

Greitens hopes to cut 188 positions from the state government workforce, a move that echoes the governor’s predecessor — Democrat Jay Nixon — who trimmed more than 5,000 state jobs during his tenure. Missouri public employees, who are the lowest paid in the nation, also would not get a raise under Greitens’ budget proposal.

House Budget Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican, said lawmakers have known for months that difficult decisions would have to be made.

Read Next

“I will say without a doubt that this is the best budget that we’ve received from the governor to start the work with since I’ve been here,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are a lot of things that are going to be difficult, but we’re appreciative he’s given us something to work with here.”

Missouri’s budget woes have been caused by many factors.

Revenues this fiscal year have come in below what the previous governor and legislature estimated, and costs for entitlement programs such as Medicaid have continued to rise — from $10.3 billion in fiscal 2017 to $10.7 billion in fiscal 2018.

Meanwhile, corporate tax collections have seen a dramatic 25 percent drop thanks to bills passed in recent years eliminating the corporate franchise tax and changing the way multistate corporations allocate their profits.

Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh, a St. Louis County Democrat, said lawmakers have no one to blame for the budget problems but themselves.

“As long as we keep cutting taxes, we’re going to be in the hole,” she said. “We have put ourselves in a situation where over the last few years where we’ve passed a lot of tax cuts, and they’re coming home to roost.”

Greitens’ delay in releasing his budget puts lawmakers on an accelerated timeline to review his proposal and send their own plan to his desk by the May 5 deadline.

The governor has the power to accept or veto budget bills. He also can veto specific line-item spending programs from the final budget passed by the legislature.

As for Greitens’ rhetoric blaming the budget shortfall on “politicians and insiders who have been screwing up our budget for a long time,” Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said he wasn’t bothered.

“I have pretty thick skin,” said Richard, a Joplin Republican, later adding: “I’ll stand by our budgets in my 15 years. We spent the taxpayers money really well and did the best we could with what we had.”

In his first address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly, Gov. Eric Greitens on Tuesday night urged lawmakers to overcome years of gridlock and finally ban lawmakers from accepting gifts from lobbyists. The new governor took office

The Associated Press contributed to this story.