- Associated Press - Thursday, March 27, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - The Missouri House approved a novel two-tiered state spending plan Thursday that would increase public school funding by up to $122 million if more conservative revenue projections turn out to be right or up to $278 million if Gov. Jay Nixon’s rosier predictions come true.

The two-tiered approach is atypical for Missouri and stems from a disagreement between the Democratic governor and the Republican lawmakers responsible for putting together the budget. The lawmakers have a more somber outlook than Nixon for Missouri’s revenue collections next fiscal year, and they were unable to agree with Nixon on the estimate that normally forms the basis for crafting the budget.

Under the House plan, school districts would receive a $122 million increase to the current $3 billion spent for basic school aid. However, the increase could climb to $278 million if the state’s tax revenues match Nixon’s more optimistic projection. Both fall short of the $556 million increase that would be needed to comply with Missouri’s school funding law, and schools might have to wait until the end of the academic year to know whether they would get the larger increase.

Colleges and universities also would get more money next year, though the amount also would depend upon whose revenue estimate is more accurate. The House plan calls for a 2 percent increase for two-year and four-year schools, and a 3 percent increase if state revenues are larger. Nixon sought an increase of 5 percent for universities and 4 percent for community colleges.

Democratic Rep. Margo McNeil said the budget proposal is unnecessarily low.

“The committee chose to work with the wrong set of numbers,” said McNeill, of Florissant. “They chose to be stingy. I don’t know why.”

Republicans said Missouri is unlikely to have the funds needed to support a larger budget.

“The governor brought us a budget based on pixie dust predictions and long-shot legislation,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

Missouri’s roughly $26.6 billion operating budget takes effect July 1. The 13 bills comprising the spending plan now move to the Senate, where additional changes are likely. The Legislature has until early May to approve a budget for the 2015 fiscal year.

In addition to education funding, the budget also proposes to trim state government positions by 1 percent while boosting pay by 1 percent. Nixon proposed a 3 percent pay raise that would start partway through the fiscal year.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream said the proposal would trim about 540 positions and that many currently are empty.

“It’s a way to begin to reduce the size of the state workforce so that we don’t get out of control,” said Stream, R-Kirkwood.

The House plan also has $6 million to operate the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in case the National Park Service agrees to give up control of the park in southeastern Missouri. The park service is working to revise a management plan that has been in place for three decades that could include new regulations and restrictions. Critics contend the changes would harm the local economy, restrict tourism and drive out local businesses.

Republicans rejected a Democratic effort to include funding for expanding the Medicaid health care program for the poor. The program currently covers about 830,000 people at an annual cost of roughly $9 billion. Missouri in 2005 lowered its adult Medicaid eligibility levels to the lowest income thresholds allowed under federal law. The federal government for two years would cover the cost of allowing more people to access Medicaid under the federal health care law.

Nixon and Democrats in the Legislature contend expanding Medicaid would increase access to health care. Republicans contend the health program first needs changes and have cited concerns about the potential long-term costs.

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