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Missouri lawmakers pass $48 billion state budget

May 6, 2022 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature on Friday passed a roughly $48 billion state budget packed with extra funding for teacher pay, school busing, Medicaid and public colleges and universities.

The budget package earned largely bipartisan support, although some Republicans criticized spending so much money on government programs.

GOP heartburn over the uptick in spending was somewhat eased with a $500 million tax refund added to the budget Thursday.

Middle-income taxpayers are slated to get tax credits up to $1,000 for married couples filing jointly or $500 for single adults under the proposal, although the exact amount available per taxpayer is unclear and also depends on individuals’ tax liability.

“This is giving money back to taxpayers when we’re in a situation where we have too much of it,” House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith said.

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Under the program, refunds would go only to individuals earning less than $150,000 and couples making less than $300,000 annually. Refunds will be prorated, meaning taxpayers might not get the full amount if enough people qualify.

People must pay taxes to be eligible for a refund. In practice, people would receive a $1 refund for each $1 of tax owed until their tax bill reaches the refund limit of $500.

Other provisions in the budget include a new program to raise teacher pay to a minimum of $38,000 a year, with the state kicking in 70% of those costs if local school districts agree to pitch in the other 30%.

Parents and other caregivers could get up to $1,500 in grants or reimbursements to pay for tutoring and other resources to help K-12 students catch up after falling behind during the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawmakers bulked up funding to fully pay the state’s share of public K-12 busing costs, which have been underfunded since 1991. The extra money could help prevent long walks to school for K-12 students and four-day weeks.

“Additional transportation dollars from the state allows school leaders to shift local funds to other high-priority areas to further support students, teachers, and staff,” Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven said in a statement.

Public four-year colleges and universities are set to get a 5.5% funding increase, along with tens of millions more for construction projects at university and college campuses across the state.

Republican lawmakers caved and included money to pay for Medicaid expansion under the terms of the 2010 federal health care law signed by former President Barack Obama, as approved by Missouri taxpayers in 2020.

Despite voter approval, GOP lawmakers — who have cautioned against promising more people health care without knowing whether the state will be able to afford it — continued to fight the expansion, refusing to fund it last year.

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They conceded after a judge last year ordered Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s administration to allow newly eligible adults to enroll.

Republicans once again also banned any public funding from going to Planned Parenthood centers, including clinics that do not provide abortions.

Lawmakers were able to stop money from going to Planned Parenthood in the 2019 fiscal year by forgoing some federal funding to avoid requirements that the clinics be reimbursed if low-income patients go there for birth control, cancer screenings and other preventative care.

But the Missouri Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that lawmakers violated the constitution by making the policy change through the state budget, forcing the state to reimburse Planned Parenthood for health care provided to Medicaid patients.

Republicans have said they’re hopeful this year will be different because they’re working to pass laws outside the budget banning public funds for abortions. Democrats argued the effort is still unconstitutional.

Yamelsie Rodríguez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, called on Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration to step in and enforce federal Medicaid law, which provides for patient access to all willing Medicaid providers.

“The Biden administration must put their words into action and enforce the law,” she said in a statement.

An Associated Press request for comment to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the federal Medicaid program, was not immediately returned Friday.

Missouri lawmakers also set aside more money in the upcoming budget for in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as $12 million more for opioid addiction treatment programs.

About $250 million in one-time federal funding will go to grants to expand high-speed internet, plus another $20 million to equip cell towers for broadband, particularly in underserved areas.

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Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report.