When Outside the Box, Remember the Box

A meditation on HCB3 and the 2017 Missouri Legislative Session which ended Friday, May 12.

  1. Though Medicaid is often blamed for all the structural problems of Missouri’s budget, tax credits and tax cuts for businesses, wealthy individuals and corporation are actually a tremendous drain on general revenue.
  2. The 2017 budget shortfall was largely caused by the elimination and reduction of some business taxes which cost the state far more than first estimated.
  3. The Governor’s original budget recommendations included an increase in level of care requirements (LOC) to 27 points. This would have been simply devastating to participants and to home and community based service (HCBS) programs. No one from his office has explained where this policy idea came from.
  4. A major reason the Governor switched his recommendations back to 21 points is related to the advocacy efforts which were gearing up in February around a public comment hearing.
  5. Then the House Budget chair decided to link funding for HCBS, Alzheimer grants and other vital services to a repeal of the “circuit breaker” tax credit (CB) for people with disabilities and seniors, thus creating a political box, a snare.
  6. The “box” is the impossible and unnecessary choice of either keeping the circuit breaker and letting 8,000 people lose crucial HCBS services or keep the services and let 100,000 people lose a vital financial lifeline which according to the Constitution they have every right to access. There have been attempts to overturn the renter’s portion of the circuit breaker for over a decade. There have also been large scale efforts to undermine the Medicaid program in Missouri for a long time.
  7. Now, in a gambit more fit for a chess hustle than for civic life, the House would take “tough votes” on CB repeal in HCB3 and cuts in budget bills HB10 and HB11. But then the appropriations process would create an irresistible momentum, which would be blamed for killing one “bird” and mortally wound the other without their fingerprints on the stone. The Senate would have to decide which bird dies. If they refuse to eliminate CB, then they would be blamed for the drastic cut in services. If providers work to save CB, then they would in effect be responsible for the cut in reimbursement rates. After the initial passage of the Budget and HCB3 in the House, the box would become the invisible but rigid structure around the process. And everyone would simply accept this as they always do.
  8. At one point, while “selling” the gambit vote, the Budget Chair said “We must do this. We have no choice.” However, that simply was not accurate. It is estimated that between $100 and $183 million was being “held” by the Budget chair for a supplemental budget. But, there were numerous new items in the budget, along with funding for pet projects in key districts with powerful legislators. Yet the costs for funding the programs tied to the CB repeal were far less than the amount arbitrarily held in “reserve”.
  9. On March 15th, Representative Deb Lavender presented the House Budget Committee with a brilliant way to avoid harming those benefiting from CB while retaining vital services for others. The General Assembly has the ability to reapportion or “sweep” accounts belonging to certain state administered funds with balances over $1 million above a certain threshold. The idea was to take a certain percentage from those funds well above their statutory threshold and use those moneys to pay for services.
  10. On March 28 (video link: go to 4:12:13 mark) this same idea was presented in much greater detail during the amendment process of Budget “markup”. The idea was well conceived, thoroughly vetted and workable. But because the idea was outside the box which the House leadership wanted everyone in, the idea was rejected out of hand.
  11. The legislative vehicle to repeal CB was House Committee Bill 3 (HCB3) and it passed the House, but not without controversy. Then the Senate took up the bill and Democrats filibustered it until 5:30am. It was effectively “dead” from that point forward.
  12. Although it was clear that a CB repeal under these circumstances was a nonstarter, nevertheless he persisted. By dominating the budget process, the House insured that the LOC point elevation and the provider rate cut would be built into the budget and could only be alleviated if HCB3 was passed.

“You can take up the bill and pass it or leave it to die and take your chances with your constituents.”

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