- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Public K-12 schools in Missouri would see more money while higher education would be cut and a tax break for senior and disabled renters would be eliminated under a budget plan passed Thursday by the state House.

The $27.8 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year starting in July shows the Republican-led House’s priorities in elementary and secondary education and frustration with costs for health care.

“In tough budget years, sacrifices have to be made,” House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick told colleagues after floor debate on higher education cuts. “We cut a lot of things that we didn’t want to cut, but at the end of the day we have to pay our bills.”

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. Republican Gov. Eric Greitens and Fitzpatrick also have cited growing spending demands, particularly by the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents.

Under the House plan, close to $3.4 billion is set aside in basic aid for K-12 schools, about a $48 million increase from the current fiscal year and enough to meet funding goals called for under state law. The current version of the budget also includes money to undo proposed school transportation cuts recommended by Greitens.

The proposed funding increase for public schools comes after lawmakers last year passed legislation to lower funding targets in state law, a policy Democratic lawmakers slammed.

“Let’s be real,” House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty told reporters after the budget passed. “If you lower the bar and then claim victory, that’s not quite fair.”

It’s unclear whether gains in elementary and secondary education will make it out of the Senate.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Brown has said he opposes giving schools the full amount called for under state law in part because that would trigger mandatory funding for early childhood education. He also said more money should go to school transportation.

The House budget also slashes funding to other programs, most notably to the tax break for seniors and disabled renters and funding for higher education.

Fitzpatrick pitched axing the tax break in lieu of a widely criticized proposal by Greitens to cut in-home and nursing care for people with disabilities. Last fiscal year, around 98,000 renters received about $56 million in refunds through the tax break, according to Department of Revenue estimates cited by legislative researchers.

Fitzpatrick’s plan drew bipartisan opposition in the House. McCann Beatty said proposed increases in K-12 education were made “on the backs of our senior citizens.” Joplin Republican Rep. Bill White said he recently got a call from someone in his area worried about paying bills for a mobile home if the tax break is eliminated.

“Where are they going to go to be able to have the dignity to stay in their own home?” White said. “I appreciate that we need to make cuts, and I can see that we need to make cuts in some of these programs. But I strongly disagree with where we chose to go.”

House members also softened blows by Greitens to public colleges and universities, but most institutions still will see funding cuts of 6.6 percent. The University of Missouri System faces a 9 percent cut.

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