What Has The Budget Done For You Lately? – 4/7

Reprinted from Missouri House Democratic Caucus

House Democrats offered several alternative solutions to this awful idea that would not raise taxes on low-income, elderly and disabled renters. House Republicans, however, blocked all efforts to protect our state’s most vulnerable, instead pitting senior citizen programs against each other.

The budget, crafted by House Republicans, was sent to the Senate for consideration this past week.  Budgets are moral documents and an expression of priorities– this one deprives elderly and disabled citizens of rental assistance that enables them to stay in their homes, refuses to expand Medicaid, doles out millions to newly minted-statewide office holders, and categorically fails to address the crumbling state of Missouri’s transportation infrastructure. Here are just a few of the low-lights included in the House Republican budget plan:

K-12 Formula Funding

Republicans continue to pat themselves on the back for fully funding the foundation formula. Looking at the House Republican budget, and saying that the formula is fully funded can only be said with a straight face after knowing Republicans voted last session to drastically reduce the amount needed for the formula to be fully funded. This method of accounting has a street term – “cooking the books.” Republicans approved lowering how much is called for under the foundation formula based on the promise that state dollars would finally be freed up to support early childhood education provided to students in their local districts. As the House proposal merely funds the lowered foundation formula calculation, and not a dime more – there is no money for early childhood education.

While claiming victory for “fully funding” the lowered calculation,  the GOP neglected to mention that the House position provides for the lowest increase to the foundation formula than has been achieved over the past 5 budget years.

However, before the House even voted on the appropriation bills, it was made clear that Republicans on the Senate side have no interest in providing even the level of support in the current House education budget bill. More troubling than Republican lawmakers playing games with education funding is its link to a bill that cleared the Missouri House earlier this session – HB 634, which would drastically expand charter schools in the state of Missouri. House Republicans tied the passage of that act to fully funding the lowered foundation formula calculation. In fact, many Republican members voted for that measure based on such a promise. With the Senate Republicans assuring the education community that the lowered foundation formula will not be funded – that too seems like an empty promise, though you have to appreciate the consistency.

With corporate tax giveaways constraining state revenue, tough budgetary times are the new normal. Our schools are our institutions most deserving of state investment and  will continue to be forced to operate without adequate funding. Budgetary appropriations show our key priorities, and the Republican budget again makes it known that special interests–not children–continue to be their top concern.

Medicaid Expansion

After the Trump Administration’s failed attempt at repealing and replacing Obamacare, states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia have begun discussions about expanding Medicaid. It is possible the news has not gotten out as Missouri Republicans are still resoundingly rejecting the idea of Medicaid Expansion on the unlikely premise that the GOP-led White House and Congress will be able to cobble together a second repeal and replace plan.

Medicaid Expansion would provide health care coverage for 300,000 Missourians, provide a much needed economic boost to rural hospitals and save the state millions of dollars.  Although 32 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to reap the benefits of Medicaid Expansion,  Missouri House GOP continue to reject a possible solution to Missouri’s budget woes. The Majority Party should finally face reality and do what they should have done several years ago- expand Medicaid.

Public Defenders

While Attorney General Josh Hawley was busy giving raises to lawyers in his office, Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood secured $6.8 million in unspent funds from the Attorney General’s budget to go towards the overworked and underfunded Public Defender’s office.  Although the Attorney General failed to show up to the budget committee to defend his excessive budget, one of his lackeys in House Republican Leadership offered an amendment on the House Floor to remove those funds from the Public Defender’s budget.

During debate on the amendment, Rep. Lavender underscored the importance of robust funding for the Public Defender’s Office,  “Underfunding has left the Public Defender system fiscally unable to fulfill their constitutional duties.” With each public defender handling at least 100 cases and up to 200 cases at a time, the question remains whether individuals are really receiving their constitutionally mandated adequate representation.

The message delivered by House Republicans is clear – allowing a newly-minted statewide official the ability to dole out top-dollar raises to his lieutenants is more important than affording Missourians their constitutional right to counsel under the 6th amendment.

Lieutenant Governor

During a Republican-induced budget crisis where the Majority Party failed to adequately fund public defenders and higher education, House Republicans secured a needless $100,000 increase to the Lieutenant Governor’s budget for unnecessary travel expenses. The one and only constitutional duty of the Lieutenant Governor is to preside over the Senate.  The Missouri Senate is not a traveling exhibition, it just stays in Jefferson City – so too should the Lieutenant Governor.

The Republican budget makes cuts to the Missouri Scholars Academy and higher education and fails to fix our crumbling roads and bridges. Yet astoundingly, House Republicans were able to find thousands of dollars for a politician’s slush fund. Missourians deserve better.

Taxing low-income seniors and disabled renters – 98,400 Missourians

No, it’s not a typo, the Republican budget is literally balanced on the backs of 98,400 low-income senior citizens and disabled individuals who rely on a relatively small, though wildly popular tax credit. The program is often referred to as “circuit breaker” and is essential for many Missourians being able to remain in their homes. The program provides a tax credit to certain low-income individuals for the property tax that is paid through renting their homes, roughly $50 million in assistance to low-income seniors and certain disabled Missourians yearly.

Individuals that receive this property tax credit count on it, eliminating the program is nothing short of a tax increase. Once more, this is a tax increase and one of the worst kind – levied against a population that is least able to afford it.

Finding solutions for complex problems—this is the mark of true leadership.

Missouri Democrats will continue to fight each day to protect middle class working families, provide opportunities for students to enroll in and complete their education, and serve as a voice for the voiceless.

Check out the @MOLegDems Budget Week recap: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20cQ9IC1prk

 

Reprinted from Missouri House Democratic Caucus

 

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