JEFFERSON CITY • Operating under a midnight deadline, Gov. Eric Greitens signed his first budget into law Friday, pledging to cut more than a quarter of a billion dollars from the spending blueprint sent to him by lawmakers in May.
As Missourians headed into a long summer holiday weekend, the budget cuts were among a flurry of actions on controversial issues by the Republican newcomer.
Greitens signed off on a controversial rewrite of state workplace discrimination laws and announced he would take no action on legislation that will end St. Louis’ higher minimum wage, meaning the $10-per-hour level will be nullified on Aug. 28.
“We were sent here to make tough decisions. That’s what we’re doing,” the governor said in a statement.
With the new fiscal year set to begin Saturday, action on the state's $27.8 billion budget plan took center stage.
With tax revenue rolling in slower than anticipated, Greitens announced he was chopping $251 million in spending.
And he vetoed an 11th-hour deal by lawmakers to spare cuts to medical care for an estimated 8,000 elderly and disabled residents, as well as reductions in how much nursing homes, hospitals and doctors are reimbursed.
“Politicians were trying to spend money we don’t have. So we’re left with two choices: Raise taxes or cut spending. I will not raise your taxes,” said Greitens, who has made a practice of bashing his fellow GOP lawmakers.
Within the spending items, the governor is cutting more from the state’s public universities. Under the budget approved by the Republican legislature, universities were set to see a 6.5 percent reduction. Greitens boosted that to a 9 percent cut in core funding to save $24 million.
K-12 schools will see $15 million less than lawmakers approved for busing costs.
Among other cuts, Greitens called for a reduction in the amount of printing for the state’s annual production of a “Blue Book,” which compiles state facts and other information. He said printing costs could be reduced by no longer publishing the name and salary of all state employees because that information is available online.
It was not clear Friday how some of his proposed savings would come about. For example, he appears to be banking on saving $29 million through a hospital funding plan that may rely on action in gridlocked Washington.
The governor also said the Department of Social Services will pare $30 million from its budget, but he did not identify what exactly would be cut from the agency that provides health care assistance to thousands of low-income, disabled and troubled youth.
The reductions were not unexpected. While the governor and members of the Legislature had projected 3.4 percent growth in state revenue, the amount flowing into state coffers was closer to 2.1 percent.
That left a gap of more than $125 million heading into the new budget year, triggering predictions of the governor wielding his budget ax.
Greitens said House Committee Bill 3, which would have raided a number of special state funds to avoid cuts to medical assistance programs, was a gimmick created by the Senate.
“I won’t sign an unconstitutional, one-time, fake fix to a real problem,” Greitens said.
Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, said she was saddened by the governor’s decision.
“In the long run, this decision will cost Missouri taxpayers more as people receiving these services will turn toward emergency rooms for the care they are no longer receiving and end up in nursing homes sooner than they would have if community-based services were left in place,” said Lavender, who spearheaded the fund sweep idea.
The governor also signed Senate Bill 139, which extends the life of the Missouri Rx program. However, the maneuver also brings an end to prescription drug co-pay assistance for more than 63,000 residents who no longer qualify under income guidelines beginning Saturday.
Greitens said the action nonetheless extends the program until at least 2022 for the more than 182,000 Missourians not affected by the cuts.
Although he is withholding money for school busing, Greitens did not touch a plan by lawmakers to fully fund the school aid formula, which will pump $3.4 billion into K-12 education.
The proposed budget includes no tax increases and no general wage increases for most state workers, who are the lowest paid in the nation.
Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber said it was no accident Greitens waited until late Friday afternoon before Independence Day to take the actions.
“Like a typical politician, Eric Greitens is trying to bury that his lack of leadership and self-serving priorities will inflict economic pain on older folks, disabled Missourians, and working families,” Webber said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article did not include the total amount of the state's budget plan.