Missouri House Budget Funds Schools, Blocks DWI Checkpoints

By DAVID A. LIEB - Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – No tolls roads. No drunken driving checkpoints. No in-state tuition rates for students living illegally in the country since childhood.

Those are just a few of the things to which Missouri House members said “no” Tuesday as they gave initial approval to a proposed $27.8 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year that contains numerous restrictions and requirements on how that money can be spent.

The Republican-led House budget plan includes nearly $3.4 billion in basic aid for public elementary and secondary school districts for the 2018 fiscal year that starts July 1 the full amount called for under state law and significantly more than what Republican Gov. Eric Greitens had recommended.

But it would cut core funding for most public colleges and universities by 6.6 percent and for the University of Missouri system by more than 9 percent a slightly smaller reduction than what Greitens had recommended to help balance a budget that he has described as “broken.”

A financial report released Tuesday shows Missouri’s revenues have been growing this year, but not by as much as needed to fully fund the current budget. Declining corporate tax revenues are part of the reason. Greitens also has cited growing spending demands, particularly by the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

Among its cuts, the House Republican plan would end a longtime income tax credit for low-income seniors and disabled people living in rental housing, redirecting the savings to fund programs for the disabled and seniors.

The budget plan includes a prohibition on money being used to expand Medicaid coverage to low-income adults under the federal health care law enacted under former President Barack Obama. It also prohibits any money from going to entities that perform abortions, or that refer women to others who perform them, when not necessary to save the life of pregnant women.

Missouri’s Republican legislative majorities have long fought against abortion and Obama’s health care law.

Previous budgets also have included wording barring state scholarships and in-state tuition rates from going to students living in the U.S. illegally because of the actions of their parents. The House defeated a Democratic attempt Tuesday to remove the ban as Republican Rep. Rick Brattin argued that doing so would be “enabling” and “rewarding wrongdoing.”

The House also defeated efforts Tuesday to strip out budget-wording banning the use of state money for toll roads and law enforcement checkpoints designed to nab intoxicated drivers.

Missouri has no toll roads, and voters have rejected them in the past, but the state transportation department has been studying the potential of using tolls as part of a public-private partnership to rebuild Interstate 70 between suburban St. Louis and Kansas City.

Some lawmakers argued Tuesday that DWI checkpoints infringe on people’s constitutional rights against unreasonable searches, though the courts have allowed them. Others said the checkpoints are less effective than saturation patrols, in which multiple law officers simultaneously patrol a highway with an eye toward a variety of violations. They said local law enforcement agencies could still conduct DWI checkpoints, if they funded them solely with their own money.

The House also approved a few additions to the budget Tuesday, including an amendment doubling to nearly $3 million the amount of money available to make voters aware of a new Missouri law asking them to show photo identification at the polls.

A second round of House votes is expected to occur later this week to send the 13 bills comprising the budget to the Senate, where additional changes are likely. The two chambers face a May 5 deadline to pass a final version of the budget.

(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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