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Missouri Lawmakers Set to Pass $48B State Budget

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature is set to pass a roughly $48 billion state budget by their constitutional deadline Friday.

The spending plan includes extra funding for teacher pay, school busing, Medicaid, in-home care for seniors and people with disabilities, and public colleges and universities.

Democrats lauded massive investments in education, while some Republicans criticized heavy spending throughout state government. 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 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,” Smith said.

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 $38,000 a year minimum, 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 for public K-12 busing costs, which have been underfunded for years. The extra money could help prevent long bus rides or long walks to school for K-12 students.

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.

They conceded after a judge last year ordered 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 from going to abortions. Democrats argued the effort is still unconstitutional.

“The majority in here seems to insist on putting this language in over and over again, even though it gets struck down in court every time,” Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth said during floor debate in the House on Friday.

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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