Governor’s budget proposes hits to higher education, as well as loan to pay tax refunds quicker

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Governor Eric Greitens has released his budget recommendations for the 2019 fiscal year, but for each question raised about the budget, the Governor also spent time fielding questions about his affair in 2015 and allegations of blackmail.

In what was his first public appearance since acknowledging his extramarital affair, reporters repeatedly questioned the Governor over whether he had taken a photo of the woman involved in the affair, to which the Governor responded that he had already answered those questions.

Putting aside the scandal, Greitens’ recommendations for the state’s $28.75 billion budget came with several noteworthy items included in the summary handed out by his office, including more restrictions and increased funding for other areas.

“The budget we’re introducing today is a common-sense, conservative budget,” the Governor stated. “We’re watching out for the tax dollars of the people of Missouri, making important investments in Missouri’s future, and also making tough decisions.”

Gov. Eric Greitens fields questions from reporters about his budget recommendations less than two weeks after news of an extramarital affair broke. (BENJAMIN PETERS/ THE MISSOURI TIMES)

“We have to tighten up in other areas of government and spend less money,” the embattled governor told members of the media during a Monday evening news conference, citing increased spending on healthcare as one of the number one issues.

Missouri is expected to spend more than $11 billion on Medicaid in the next year, largely because of federally mandated services, but Greitens made it clear that the answer was not raising taxes.

Interestingly enough, one of the restrictions listed by the Governor’s recommendations was a $40 million hit to Medicaid programs, but neither Greitens nor budget director Dan Haug could provide details as what those might consist of. Haug said the details of that were still being worked out, and that they would “define that as we go along.”

Greitens’ proposal includes another round of cuts to public colleges and universities, saying that growth in “administrative costs” at several institutions had led to the call for more reductions in higher education. His plan for FY 2019 calls for roughly $68 million less in state funding to all universities and two-year colleges than they actually expected to get based on cuts Greitens previously made to the 2018 budget.

That move already doesn’t sit well with some legislators, most notably Sen. Caleb Rowden, who represents the district in which the state’s flagship University of Missouri campus is located in.

“We cannot continue to balance the budget on the backs of students; they are the future workers and job creators Missouri desperately needs to cultivate,” Rowden said. “Continuing to neglect our public colleges, universities and trade schools seriously hinders Missouri’s ability to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass a budget that better reflects Missourians’ priorities.”

The budget recommendations do include an additional $87 million for elementary and secondary education, as well as a $162.8 million increase for roads and bridges funding. It also carries a $25 million matching grant fund for local communities looking to build infrastructure projects.

The new budget plan looks to spend roughly $200 more than the current budget, but it also addresses an issue that has been a sore subject for years among state workers: a raise.

Under the Governor’s proposal, state workers making $50,000 or less would qualify for a one-time bonus of $650 pending the passage of reform measures of the state’s “civil service system” by the state legislature. What those might be is still unclear.

But perhaps the most interesting piece of the puzzle was explained by Haug, following the Governor’s press conference.

Under the proposed plan, Missouri would seek the approval of a $250 million short-term loan to help speed up the issuing of tax returns, which have consistently seen delays in recent years due to issues with state cash flow.

Haug described the idea, saying that it was basically the equivalent of seeking an advance and that the state would have to pay it back with interest, but that they would make it “pretty close to cost neutral.” It’s the first time anything like this has ever been done by the Show-Me State.

Democrats issued the following response after receiving his proposals Monday afternoon, saying it failed to fund the basics.

“The governor’s budget would put a lot of drops into a lot of buckets to create the illusion of addressing Missouri’s many vital needs. But no amount of budgetary sleight of hand can obscure the reality that years of tax cuts for corporations and special interests have left Missouri without sufficient money for the basics,” House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty said in a statement. “Until the Republicans who control state government fix the structural problems they have inflicted on Missouri’s finances, the state will continue to stumble from one budget crisis to the next with no hope for progress in sight.”

To read the Governor’s Budget Summary, click here.

To access the full list of budget documents, click here.

This story originally appeared on missouritimes.com

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