Cuts to colleges and Medicaid: Greitens’ budget speeds up Missouri’s slide to mediocrity

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed a $28.8 billion budget that cuts spending for vulnerable Missourians.
Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed a $28.8 billion budget that cuts spending for vulnerable Missourians. Big Stock Photo

Missourians who have followed Gov. Eric Greitens for the past year will not be surprised by the governor’s new budget, revealed to the state Monday.

Greitens — who frequently reminds voters of his courage and his service as a Navy SEAL — has decided to slash at two of the most politically defenseless groups in the state, students and the poor.

The governor, for example, wants to save $40 million “through Medicaid cost containment initiatives” in the state’s social services budget. When asked to explain what those initiatives might be, the administration blinked, promising to come up with something eventually.

The governor’s supporters say the reductions will come in administrative costs, not patient care. Overall Medicaid spending in Missouri, they say, continues to rise.

But Missourians should be clear: Administrative cost reductions can lead to reduced access, or less preventive care or both. And whatever reductions are made in Medicaid spending, they will almost certainly fall largely on rural residents.

The governor also wants to spend nearly $1 million to study the state’s Medicaid operating structure. Missourians should always insist on efficiency, but the study should not be used as an excuse to cut help for the state’s working poor.

More concerning is the governor’s continued attack on higher education in Missouri. Greitens proposes cutting support for the state’s colleges by roughly $70 million, on top of cuts ordered or approved in 2017.

Missourians should reject continued reductions in spending for higher education.

In recent days, state officials said they offered Amazon a package that included nearly $2.5 billion in incentives and credits over several years to build a new headquarters in the state. That’s an enormous amount of money.

Yet Amazon rejected both Kansas City and St. Louis as potential sites. The company hasn’t said why, but surely a lack of highly-skilled tech graduates played a role.

A state that invests in private businesses but refuses to invest in its students and their parents will lose repeatedly in the 21st century. Missouri (and Kansas, for that matter) must understand the importance of a skilled workforce in the years to come.

Repeatedly cutting support for post-secondary education will be a disaster.

There are some things to like in the governor’s proposal. Additional spending for K-12 education is laudable, although the budget falls short of fully funding the state’s own formula. The General Assembly will likely correct that mistake.

We also applaud increased spending to address the opioid crisis and improve the state’s foster care programs. State workers deserve a raise, and the governor’s budget will give some of them an increase, although there are unwelcome strings attached.

Finally, the fact that the governor’s budget apparently will not include a gas tax increase is a disappointment. Missouri’s roads and bridges are a disaster, and with a relatively strong economy and relatively low gas prices, such an increase might be acceptable to voters.

Instead, Greitens has proposed a stay-the-course budget that hammers higher education. His proposal accelerates Missouri’s slide into mediocrity.