Passing a Balanced Budget: House Continues Commitment to Limited Government and Fiscal Prudence
This past week, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a balanced and fiscally responsible budget that contains the largest education budget in the state's history, funds Medicaid reforms, and increases appropriations for business development while limiting wasteful spending.
Operating within Missouri's Means
The budget process begins with the development of the consensus revenue estimate (CRE), which approximates how much revenue the state will have for the next year. This year the governor's staff walked out of the CRE negotiations, refusing to accept the estimate developed by the House, Senate, and University of Missouri economist.
The House of Representatives is dedicated to crafting a fiscally responsible budget, not playing political games. Our 2015 budget relies on the reasonable revenue projection crafted during the CRE process. If Missouri takes in more money than expected, the additional income will go into a surplus fund for education and one-time expenditures.
Education: Investing in the Next Generation
The House is committed to providing all children in Missouri a high-quality education to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow. Between general revenue and the surplus revenue fund, we supported Missouri schools with a $278 million increase for the Foundation Formula. To help struggling schools better serve students, the House appropriated $8.2 million for the Missouri preschool program and $3.5 million for reading programs in unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts.
For Missouri to remain a land of economic opportunity, we need a skilled workforce and strong educational institutions that keep the best and brightest minds in our state. Thanks to the expansion of the Bright Flight scholarship, high school seniors who score in the top 3 percent on the ACT or SAT will be eligible for a scholarship and a forgivable loan to cover their tuition at any public university in Missouri if they commit to working in the state upon graduation.
Improved Social Services to Save Taxpayer Dollars
One of the state's most important functions is caring for Missouri's truly vulnerable citizens in a fiscally responsible manner. Unfortunately, Missouri's Medicaid system is plagued by unnecessary emergency room visits, wasteful spending, and subpar services. To improve our state's healthcare system, the budget includes:
-- A healthcare fraud detection system to proactively identify improper payments
-- Asthma education for families
-- Preventative dental care for adults on Medicaid
-- A pilot program to provide coordinated healthcare for foster children
-- Coverage for rehabilitative therapies and complex rehab therapy items like individualized wheelchairs
Providing more comprehensive care will save money long-term by limiting costly emergency care and improving recipients' wellness.
The budget also eliminates the development disabilities waitlist so individuals in need can receive care quickly. Delays in newborn blood tests have placed the youngest Missourians at risk, so we included money speed up the newborn blood screening process. Improving the timeliness of tests will help newborns receive early treatment to possibly prevent life-long health issues.
Securing Economic Growth for Tomorrow
Your Republican-led legislature remains committed to encouraging economic growth by allowing the private sector to create jobs and innovative businesses unfettered by intrusive government regulations.
The Missouri Technology Corporation, which promotes entrepreneurship and emerging high-tech companies, received a $5 million increase. We included $4.5 million for matching funds to early-stage business development grants, which distribute money to businesses that have potential for national or international sales or technological development.
Checking Reckless Spending Through Fiscal Oversight
The budget process, however, does not end with the passage of these bills. Even the most carefully crafted budget will not safeguard the people's interests unless the legislature vigilantly oversees the day-to-day spending by departments. Representatives serve on a variety of committees that meet throughout the year to track down waste and fraud.
Good governance requires that the state does not shirk from its fundamental responsibilities or intrude on the rights of individuals. This budget is designed to provide Missourians with the services they need while spending taxpayer resources efficiently and frugally. There is still much work to be done as the budget moves to the Senate, but I will continue working toward a fiscally prudent budget that protects the long-term financial health of our state.
National Work Zone Awareness Week is April 7-11
Every spring, the Missouri Department of Transportation starts preparing for the summer season of roadwork across the state. Part of that preparation includes the observance of National Work Zone Awareness Week, which is April 7-11.
Highway workers spend their days working a short distance from fast-moving vehicles. They make every effort to work safely, but they count on motorists to pay attention, slow down, and use caution when driving through work zones.
In 2012, Governor Jay Nixon and the Missouri General Assembly added MoDOT vehicles to the "Move Over" law, which protects law enforcement and emergency response vehicles parked on the side of the road. This law requires motorists to slow down or change lanes when approaching these vehicles and now includes MoDOT vehicles parked with amber and white lights flashing.
"The law is simple: If you see flashing lights on the side of the road, move over to give workers and emergency personnel plenty of room to stay safe," said MoDOT Chief Engineer Ed Hassinger. "If you can't move over on a crowded highway, you should slow down as you pass them. We want you and our workers to make it home safe every day."
The severe downturn in transportation funding in Missouri means that MoDOT's focus is increasingly on preservation of the existing transportation system. It requires $485 million per year to keep Missouri's roads and bridges in the condition they are in today. MoDOT's construction budget is slightly above that figure now, but by 2017 it will fall to $325 million. That will lead to the eventual deterioration of highways across the state. Lots of resurfacing and bridge replacement projects will be required and that is the type of work that affects drivers the most.
Work zones come in many forms such as a lane closures that last for weeks or even months for roadway or bridge construction, or work zones that last a few hours or just one day for road maintenance.
"Not all work zones look alike," said MoDOT State Maintenance Engineer Beth Wright. "We remind motorists that work zones can be moving operations, such as striping, patching or mowing. They can also be short term, temporary lane closures to make quick repairs or remove debris from the roadway."
Work zone safety is a serious matter. Check out these current statistics:
-- In 2013, eight people were killed in work zones, compared to seven in 2012.
-- Between 2009 and 2013, 53 people were killed and 2,781 people were injured in Missouri work zones.
-- Since 2000, 16 MoDOT employees have been killed in the line of duty.
-- The top five contributing circumstances for work zone crashes in 2013 were following too closely, improper lane use or changing lanes, inattention, driving too fast for conditions and failure to yield -- in that order.
-- The best defense in a work zone crash, or any crash, is a seat belt. In 2013, 63 percent of vehicle occupant fatalities were not wearing a seat belt.
To help make your travel safer, visit MoDOT's Traveler Information map at www.traveler.modot.org/map and find out what work zones you'll encounter before you go. Motorists can comment on the quality of MoDOT's work zones with an online customer survey at http://www.modot.org/workzones/Comments.htm.
Never hesitate to contact me at Dave.Muntzel@house.mo.gov or June Cardwell, my Legislative Assistant at June.Cardwell@house.mo.gov or call 573 751-0169 with your concerns or help with personal or business needs.
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