Legislative Column for the Week of April 6, 2015
Balancing Budgets

The Senate spent the first part of this week working through the night and into the early morning, finalizing their version of the Fiscal Year 2016 state budget, and sending the state’s spending plan back to the House with our recommendations. If the House does not pass the changes, the budget will go to conference committee, where members from both chambers will iron out the remaining differences.

Operating budget legislation receiving much attention on and off the floor is the Senate Committee Substitute for House Bill 11. This measure appropriates money for the expenses, grants and distributions of the Department of Social Services. Over the past week I have received numerous e-mails, phone calls, letters and personal visits from my constituents opposing the Senate proposal for many legitimate reasons. I listened to my constituents and I agree. Therefore, I voted against SCS HB 11

Within SCS HB 11, the current budget proposal would cut funding for seniors, Missourians with mental illnesses and foster children. This bill would create a major policy change by lumping together one spending plan in the budget for the Department of Social Services, Department of Mental Health and Department of Health and Senior Services, allowing divisions within these departments free rein on where funds are spent, something the Legislature has not looked into since 2003.

This legislation would cut a combined $130 million in general revenue from the budget for these departments. This amount includes $69 million less in spending than in FY 2014, and an additional $35 million less than the June 30th projected spending; these proposed cuts would amount to a total of $300 million once the federal matching funds are included.

These departments have spent more than 99 percent of their general revenue in both 2013 and 2014. Not only is there an increasing number of foster kids, seniors, and Missourians with disabilities and mental illnesses, these departments also manage numerous welfare programs, including: Medicaid, cash assistance, food stamps, child welfare, child care subsidies and in-home services for those with disabilities and in foster care, which combined, amounts for almost half of every dollar the state spends in general revenue. With an increasing demand of these services, there is no room for spending cuts within these departments at this time. However, I am always looking for ways to make these departments more efficient, and stretch funding and reduce expenses.

Much of the 27th Senatorial District consists of rural areas with already limited funds and employment opportunities. By cutting the spending plan for these programs, the constituents of my district in need of these services would suffer greatly with this measure. In fact, Southeast Missouri experienced the greatest impact from funding for these programs by generating nearly 38,000 newly insured Missourians during FY 2014, which amounts to a 31 percent increase. It is my responsibility to work towards creating even more results for Missourians. However, the substitute could potentially backtrack the large success we have just seen and create delayed or terminated services, as well as place many needy families on waiting lists.

These cuts to general revenue will result in a decreased access to federal funds. The Department of Social Services has experienced a spike in the number of children entering the system due to abuse and/or neglect, and a Medicaid caseload exceeding 893,000 with Missouri responsible for a large portion of this funding. Ninety percent of Medicaid participants include children, elderly, and blind and disabled Missourians. The other 10 percent are pregnant women and parents who fall within 17 percent of the federal poverty level.

Currently, state funds for these departments are evaluated on the department’s previous year’s spending, which can sometimes encourage poor spending habits before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. I feel that instead of removing funds from departments experiencing increasing demands, we should rein in Missouri’s spending by reevaluating the process in which we determine how these funds are spent—not remove spending restrictions, essentially creating a spending free-for-all within these departments.

The idea is to identify a 6 percent savings within these departments and encourage the governor to take the opportunity and really look into the budget spending and identify some savings. However, every year the budget for these departments grow based off the increasing amount of caseloads or inflation. This bill does not allow a greater opportunity to identify savings by creating one big section in the spending plan for each department. If passed, and the savings predicted are not found, I would expect the governor to use supplemental funds, that are typically used for emergencies to restore the budgets of these critical programs that should have never been cut in the first place.

I fully support encouraging the examination of where Missouri can save money, which could be allocated towards education, transportation infrastructures and repairs to numerous buildings throughout Missouri. However, I do not believe trying to slow the growth of social welfare programs by removing their funding is an effective effort in identifying efficiency savings within the spending plan. We cannot take funds from departments that protect the health and safety of Missourians.

After an initial vote of 17 yeas, 15 nays, SCS HB11 did not reach the required 18 votes for passage, This measure was brought back up on the floor for reconsideration, after hours of filibustering; it was approved by the Senate by a vote of 18 yeas, 15 nays.

Finally, last month I signed a letter requesting the governor release $3 million in funds allocated for Missouri Port Authorities. Due to a 6.8 percent increase in Missouri’s general revenue, I am pleased to see $43 million become available for the state’s priorities, including: $3 million for Port Authority Capital Investments; $2.2 million for Grants for Federally Qualified Health Centers; $2.8 million for State Aid to Local Libraries; $3.1 million for Local Libraries Internet Access; $500,000 for Public Defender Caseload Relief; and many other state priorities.

I urge you to contact me with any questions or concerns you have about state government so that I can better represent you during the 2015 Legislative Session.

Contact Me

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions, and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Wayne Wallingford, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101, or email at wayne.wallingford@senate.mo.gov or www.senate.mo.gov/wallingford.

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