JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Republican leaders in the Missouri Senate said Thursday they no longer support an approach taken by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, the Republican who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, to provide large payments to the departments that provide the state’s public assistance programs in an effort to trim their spending.
Speaking with reporters, Senate President Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he no longer backs the approach, which Schaefer said would allow the Departments Health and Senior Services, Mental Health and Social Services to find efficiencies in their spending. His opposition was joined Thursday by the opposition of Senate Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin.
“If the lump sum comes back from conference,” Dempsey said, “I will not support it.”
Both leaders had originally voted for Schaefer’s budget.
Under the Senate’s $26 billion budget, the agencies would receive their money in large sums, a plan that would give flexibility to spend it as they see fit. The catch? Schaefer’s budget aims to cut social spending for the departments by as much as $140 million in general revenue that could affect programs like Medicaid, cash and nutrition assistance for the poor, foster care for children and in-home health services for seniors.
The lump sum approach was not included in the budget passed by the House of Representatives. This week, meetings of a conference committee established to resolve the differences between the two budgets were postponed as lawmakers negotiated behind closed doors.
House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis, played his cards close on Thursday. He told reporters “informal discussions” were happening behind-the-scenes, but would not reveal what kind of compromise negotiators are seeking.
“Sen. Schaefer has a different view” than the House, Diehl said. But, “our principles are the same: We want to hold the governor accountable.”
The denouncement of the Schaefer budget by Republican leaders came nearly a week after Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon slammed the plan, too. Nixon said, “these dramatic cuts would be devastating, irresponsible and are unnecessary.”
His administration said the cuts could amount to as much as $300 million by the potential loss of federal matching funds.
Nixon pointed to Missouri’s improving economic forecast and the Legislature’s own action to pass legislation that would allow residents with delinquent taxes to pay them without penalty, an effort Nixon said could raise an additional $60 million in revenue, and offered an amendment to his own plan to account for the revenue.
Diehl said he was looking at Nixon’s plan “rather cynically.”