Missouri House budget leader proposes full aid for schools
Posted March 15
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri public K-12 schools would be fully funded next fiscal year under a proposal released Wednesday by House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, who also wants to end a tax break for low-income seniors and disabled renters in order to address expected budget holes.
The state for years has failed to meet school funding goals created by the Legislature. GOP Gov. Eric Greitens this year recommended an increase in money that still fell short, even after legislators last year changed the law to allow Missouri to spend less money but still meet the target.
Fitzpatrick's draft budget for the fiscal year beginning in July includes about $45 million more than what Greitens recommended for basic aid to schools — enough to meet target funding for the first time in years. About $7.8 million of that relies on lottery proceeds.
The plan unveiled Wednesday also includes $36 million more for school transportation than what was proposed by Greitens, who had asked for cuts.
Fitzpatrick's proposal comes amid strained state finances in part due to lower-than-expected revenue, which prompted Greitens to cut roughly $146 million to balance this year's budget. That's on top of about $200 million cut by former Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon before he left office.
To balance next year's budget, Greitens originally asked lawmakers to slash a Missouri Medicaid program providing in-home care to elderly and disabled people too poor to pay for it themselves.
But the plan met pushback, primarily from advocates and Democrats. In response, GOP lawmakers are instead pitching to end a roughly $55 million-a-year tax break for low-income seniors and disabled residents who live in rental housing.
The proposal would end a so-called circuit breaker tax break and set aside additional tax revenue for other services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
"If it Is a choice between rendering services for health care to keep these individuals alive or if it is a $325 tax credit at the end of the year, I'm going to choose their health care every single time," Republican Rep. Justin Alferman, the No. 2 House budget leader, said on the House floor.
Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the measure during Wednesday debate. Republican Rep. Rick Brattin, of Harrisonville, voted for the bill but said he was "reluctant" to end the tax break for low-income seniors and disabled renters while leaving many corporate tax breaks intact, a sentiment shared by some Democratic colleagues.
"Are we going to hurt our most vulnerable citizens and continue to give more cuts away to corporations and companies that can provide for themselves?" Democratic Rep. Brandon Ellington said.
House members voted 89-65 to give the measure initial approval Wednesday. At least 82 House members need to vote in favor of it again for it to advance to the Senate.
If lawmakers don't pass the change, which is included in the draft House budget, Fitzpatrick said he'll switch to Greitens' proposal to cut in-home care services.
Proposals to end the tax break for low-income seniors and disabled renters have been backed before by Gov. Nixon, who in 2013 supported cutting it but later said it should be part of a more expansive overhaul of state tax policy. He ended up vetoing a narrow bill that would have ended only the renters' tax break.
Next fiscal year's budget still is pending in the Budget Committee and needs to pass the House and Senate before lawmakers can send it to Greitens' desk.