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Missouri House Keeps Funding for Park Takeover

Chris Blank / Associated Press
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Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Money for a possible state takeover of a southeastern Missouri park remains in next year’s proposed state operating budget, but funding for expanding the Medicaid health care program for the poor was left out.

Missouri House members gave initial approval Tuesday to a roughly $26 billion state operating budget that will take effect July 1. The 13 bills comprising Missouri’s budget need another round of approval in the House before advancing to the Senate where additional changes are all but certain. Lawmakers have until early May to approve the state’s budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

The Republican-led House turned back an effort by Democrats to include funding for expanding Medicaid. Supporters of expanding Medicaid eligibility contend doing so would improve health care access for low-income Missourians and note that the federal government would pick up the cost for the first two years.

The GOP-led Legislature has repeatedly rejected expansion proposals during the past two years.

“We are leaving dollars on the table, and we are leaving people uninsured,” said Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis.

Republican lawmakers have cited concerns about the potential long-term costs to the state. The Medicaid program currently covers about 830,000 people at an annual cost of roughly $9 billion. The state in 2005 reduced its adult Medicaid eligibility levels to the lowest income thresholds allowed under federal law.

Earlier in the day, the House opted to keep $6 million in the budget for managing the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in case the National Park Service agrees to give up control of it. The park covers the Current and Jacks Fork rivers in southeastern Missouri. Park officials are working to revise a management plan that has been in place for three decades.

The park service has presented four future options for the park, including three that would impose varying levels of regulations and restrictions. Some state Republicans are unhappy with federal proposals. And business owners, park visitors and other critics contend the possible changes would harm the local economy, restrict tourism and drive out local businesses.

On Tuesday, one House Democrat proposed to shift the entire $6 million to higher education. Another idea that was defeated would have moved about $1.2 million from the park to a crime lab. Some said Missouri park officials do not have the staff or funding to manage the park.

Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said Missouri officials are capable.

“The idea that if we allow the state of Missouri to manage this park that it’s somehow going to waste away and not be there as a resource for our children and grandchildren is ridiculous,” he said.

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