Senator Sater’s Capitol Report, for the Week of Feb. 5: Respecting Our Seniors

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Our seniors deserve the respect they’ve earned, and that is especially true when it comes to protecting our seniors’ health and well-being. Sometimes lawmakers have to make tough decisions to balance the state’s checkbook. That’s a reality. There’s not an endless supply of state money and there shouldn’t be. That’s the taxpayers’ money and we shouldn’t spend one dollar more than is necessary. Last year was one of those particularly tough budget years that comes up every so often in Missouri. Lawmakers had to make some hard decisions and, unfortunately, one of the victims was the Missouri Rx Program.

The Missouri Rx Program was created to help low-income Missouri seniors with out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs, particularly those who fall into the Medicare Part D donut hole. We all know prices of prescription drugs have soared in the last few years. Some of that is because of the introduction of new specialty drugs, some of it is the consolidation of manufacturers and some of it is because of the effects of ObamaCare. Whatever the reason, prescription drug prices are going up, and for many of our seniors, inflation and other costs are driving their income down. While I am — and always will be — a faithful supporter of balanced budgets, we shouldn’t balance our state budget by making seniors decide whether to pay their electric bill or buy the prescription drugs they need. I was opposed to cutting the MO Rx Program last year and actually filed a bill to renew the full program. This year, the Missouri Legislature has a chance to do the right thing and restore MO Rx to the nearly 60,000 seniors who lost it last year. My Senate Bill 563, which passed the Missouri Senate this week, would do just that. Our seniors are good citizens of Missouri who have worked hard their entire lives, earned a paycheck, paid taxes and never asked for anything from their government or fellow taxpayers. Now that they have reached their golden years and we owe it to give them back a small portion of what they’ve given.

The Senate is also beginning our work on the overall state budget. Missouri’s economy is growing. In fact, revenue collections through January, compared with the same time period last year, are up 7.5 percent. These numbers fluctuate quite a bit and we can’t base our budget on just snapshots of revenue growth or decline. Missouri’s budget is about $28 billion, but we only have flexibility to spend around $8 billion of the total budget. The rest are constitutional requirements, federally-mandated spending or dedicated funds for specific purposes. Out of that $8 billion, we have to fund education, transportation and public safety, among many, many other departments and programs. This is no easy task and it requires we scrutinize every dollar spent.

I know I harp on this point a lot, but the U.S. debt is now hovering over $20 trillion. This is an irresponsible burden on our children and grandchildren and represents a failure of generations of federal lawmakers from doing their job. Let me emphasize that U.S. Sen. Blunt and Cong. Long are not the problem here. Both are strong supporters of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and are fiscal conservatives who believe in making tough but necessary decisions. In Missouri, we don’t deficit spend or kick the can down the road. We balance our budget. You might think with revenue growth this would be easy, but that’s not the case and Medicaid is one of the main problems. In the past 10 years, Medicaid has risen from 28 percent to nearly 40 percent of the total state budget to the tune of $10 billion of our $28 billion budget. At the same time, funding for K-12 education has fallen from 14 percent to nearly 12 percent and funding for colleges and universities has fallen from 4.3 percent to 3.6 percent. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, we have to get our arms around the Medicaid program or it is going to bankrupt our state. We can’t provide the education our children and young people need and rebuild our state’s roads while Medicaid continues to consume so much of our budget.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I will have the opportunity to be a part of the budget process. Consistent with what is expected of me by the people I have the privilege of serving, I will continue to try to control Medicaid costs. I will maintain my commitment to funding for our students and teachers and maintain Missouri’s AAA bond rating. Most importantly, I will promote a balanced budget and oppose tax increases on Missourians.

Additionally, I always welcome your ideas, questions and concerns. You may contact me at the State Capitol as follows: (573) 751-1480, or by writing to Sen. David Sater, Missouri State Capitol, Room 416, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

God bless and thank you for the opportunity to work for you in the Missouri Senate.