JEFFERSON CITY - Thirteen thousand working parents who earn as little as the federal minimum wage could lose their health coverage under the budget Missouri's legislature sent to Gov. Bob Holden this week, according to Department of Social Services Associate Director Chris Rackers.
Additionally, Rackers said nearly 10,000 disabled Missourians who are unable to work will lose their cash stipends from the state.
Yet Friday Republican leaders of Missouri's legislature said the budget cuts did not break Missouri's safety net for its neediest, even as they hinted at the need for tax increases to avoid additional cuts in the 2004-2005 budget.
"We trimmed where we could the bureaucratic waste that needed to be cut and we protected the programs that needed to be protected," said Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau. "I think we have a lot to be proud of."
Republican leaders were joined in praising the budget by one Democrat, former Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Wayne Goode, D-St. Louis County.
"I think we did as well as we possibly could under the circumstances," Goode said. Goode said that he would have liked to have raised more revenue for the state to avoid some of the cuts, but there was not enough support for tax increases in the legislature to do so.
He urged his fellow Democrat, Gov. Bob Holden, not to veto the budget, and said that if the governor called the legislature back for a special session on the budget, it was unlikely the lawmakers would agree to significant changes.
But other Democratic leaders, including Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said the cuts to social services and education went too far.
"Let's consider the victims of this budget," Bray said angrily. "The Republicans don't consider them their voters."
Senate minority leader Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said he hoped the governor would veto the budget, and that Republicans, who control both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in over 50 years, had not acted responsibly.
"I think they are somewhat intoxicated by their newfound power," Jacob said. "Once people in this state realize the effects of these cuts, they'll sober up."
House Speaker Catherine Hanaway and Kinder also acknowledged that they would set up a joint committee to study Missouri's tax system. Though both vigourously opposed the Governor's plan to raise taxes on tobacco, gambling, and wealthy Missourians this legislative session, neither ruled out the possibility that such a committee could set the stage for a Republican legislature to raise taxes next year.
On Friday, the legislature finalized Missouri's $19 billion budget for the coming year just hours before the constitutional deadline. It includes a four percent cut to the state's school system and an eight percent cut in funding for Missouri's colleges. The Department of Social Services receives a three percent increase over last year, though much of that is to pay for rapidly increasing Medicaid costs.
The budget depends on the passage of at least $150 million in additional revenues before the end of the legislative session Friday.
Gov. Bob Holden had previously vowed to veto the budget, though he since has backed off that pledge.