Any reasonable budgeting process begins with an accurate assessment of how much money is available to spend, and it is better to underestimate the amount of revenue that will be available than to overestimate. It is also important to remember that our state budget must always be balanced, meaning we cannot spend money that we do not have. The General Assembly chose to build a budget based on more reasonable revenue projections. While considering the possibility of a difference in figures, the legislature created a surplus revenue fund to deposit any extra money should revenues increase more than anticipated. This fund could then be used to help provide additional money for education or one-time capital improvements.
Budget highlights as affects K-12 education include the following: a $278 million increase for the Foundation Formula ($122 million of the increase is from General Revenue and $156 million is from the surplus revenue fund). This would make the K-12 education budget the largest in the state’s history; $4 million for the Missouri preschool program in unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts; $3.5 million for reading programs in unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts; a $1 million increase in Parents as Teachers program; a $1 million increase for Teach for America program; a $15 million increase for transportation funding.
Budget highlights as affects higher education include the following: a 5% increase to the core funding for universities and community colleges; an additional $6 million in equity funding for community colleges; full funding for the A+ scholarship program; a $15 million increase in Access Missouri scholarships; full funding for the Bright Flight scholarship program, with legislation pending that would allow for loan forgiveness in order to help keep our best and brightest students in Missouri.
Other highlights from the FY15 budget include the Bio-diesel Incentive Fund that will receive payments of $7.2 million—money that we were unable to budget in past years but that will be budgeted this year; funding to begin the rebuilding process of the Fulton State Mental Hospital. Built in 1847, it is the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River. This has been a primary goal of lawmakers and will require an outlay of $14 million in the FY15 budget. Also, this year’s budget restores several Medicaid benefits that were removed in 2005. These include physical, occupational and speech therapies, and the restoring of dental services for Medicaid recipients. Existing Medicaid dollars were better directed to eligible recipients who were already using the programs. The restoring of dental services will help alleviate the need of Medicaid recipients going to hospital emergency rooms for dental problems. They now can go to a dentist.
The budgeting process is very intense and basically goes on continually. We have to carefully watch and manage expenditures and incoming revenues and make needed adjustments throughout the course of the year.
Governor Nixon is expected to sign the state budget into law in mid or late June, before the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.