JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – After receiving $60 million in two recent settlements, Gov. Eric Greitens announced Thursday he would refund $52 million of that money into home-based service programs for the mentally and physically disabled and the elderly and school transportation, two areas he cut in his proposed budget. The governor will not release withheld funds into the budget but rather revise his budget recommendations.
“This settlement is good news. But it’s important to remember that it is a lucky break,” Greitens said in a post on social media. “Sound budgets are not built on lucky breaks. Our budget problems cannot be solved by stopgaps and short-term funding windfalls.”
Greitens announced $572 million in state funding cuts earlier this month, including a $52 million cut to those in-home care services via raising the eligibility requirements. The cuts were expected to impact 20,000 elderly and disabled residents receiving that care. Greitens said $41 million of the $52 million settlement will go back into that fund, but he warned it would continue to cost taxpayers and become “unsustainable.”
“If we are not careful, this program alone will eat away at every other budget priority, including public safety, domestic violence shelters, K-12 education, veterans programs, and programs for children with special needs,” Greitens said. “The simple fact is that if healthcare spending in Missouri is not reformed, it will destroy the budget and threaten every other important program that we care about.
“This is not a long-term fix — it is short-term relief. My team and I intend to use the coming months to do a thorough audit of how this program works: who it helps, where it’s broken, and how we can deliver better services for fewer dollars.”
The other $11 million from the settlement will go towards K-12 transportation. Greitens lowered last year’s appropriation on K-12 transportation from $105 million in FY 2017 to just over $69 million for FY 2018.
Greitens’ priorities with the settlement money addressed some of the most notable criticisms of his budget recommendations. Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have criticized Greitens for cutting K-12 transportation both in his budget and in a round of withholds last month while also touting his commitment to elementary and secondary education. Sen. Jason Holsman urged Greitens Wednesday to appropriate the money into in-home care programs, and a rally is planned Thursday afternoon in Springfield to protest the cuts to those programs.
However, reception from legislative leaders was mixed. Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, noted her continued concern with transportation funding, which is still short $25 million of what it was last year. She also noted the funds will go into the programs more at the behest of the two budget chairs since the governor is simply revising his recommendations, and Beatty criticized the governor’s willingness to spend money when it was unclear precisely when the state would receive that money.
“I don’t think that’s a good way to start writing a budget,” she said.
House Budget Chair Scott Fitzpatrick also had his own skepticism about putting the funds into appropriation, noting it has caused headaches in the past when former Gov. Jay Nixon did something similar.
“It is one-time money and if we put it back, we’re going to be faced with the same problem again next year,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’re faced with a little bit of that this year with one-time money last year that we’re having to backfill this year. Eventually, it makes sense to not do this anymore.”