Mo. officials began weighing funding increases

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — With a budget of barely $100 a day, the Missouri Eating Disorder Council is developing some ambitious goals to educate parents and teenagers about the disorder and train more professionals to provide treatment.

But the council will likely need more money to fully implement its plans.

So the council chairwoman went before a House committee this past week to begin making the pitch for a funding increase to kick in next July. She has good reason to hope.

In a subtle shift from years past, some Missouri budget officials now are openly talking about the potential to spend more — as opposed to emphasizing the need to pare back.

“Revenue is certainly looking better,” said Linda Luebbering, the budget director for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. “We don’t have as much of that hole to fill up as we have other years. Hopefully there will be some room to do a few more things” in the next budget.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, said he still wants to trim any programs that aren’t performing well. But he added: “I think there’s going to be a possibility of increasing some programs.”

Missouri is not yet a third of the way through its current budget year. But the planning process for the next year already has begun. Departments have submitted spending requests to Luebbering’s office for the 2015 budget that begins next July. And advocates for various programs already are making their cases to lawmakers.

Missouri ended its 2013 fiscal year with surprisingly strong 10.1 percent revenue growth, significantly exceeding the projections upon which the budget had been based. Through the first three months of the current 2014 fiscal year, state revenues were trending an additional 2.7 percent higher than the prior year.

Despite that, Nixon has continued his cautious financial management by restricting spending for many agencies. Yet even Nixon has started talking about spending more.

Nixon recently announced that he wants to fully fund the state’s K-12 school districts before his term ends in a little over three years. Missouri is now in its fifth straight year in which it has failed to provide the full amount called for under a 2005 school funding law.

To fully fund the formula would cost an additional $556 million next year, according to budget figures from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That would be a financial stretch, especially since other agencies also are seeking multimillion dollar funding increases.

As is typical, the Department of Social Services is seeking a nine-figure funding increase for the Medicaid health care program, in part to keep pace with rising pharmaceutical and medical costs.

The Department of Mental Health is seeking more than $13 million in additional state funds to cover the rising costs of medications and treatment and an increase in people seeking mental health services. The department already serves about 170,000 people annually, over half of whom are covered under the Medicaid program.

Budget documents submitted by the Mental Health Department forecast a 4.3 percent increase in the number of existing adult Medicaid enrollees seeking mental health services next year, and a 7.6 percent increase in youths getting mental health services.

It’s against that backdrop of increased demand for core government services like schools and mental health care that advocates for other initiatives will be making their funding pitches.

The Missouri Eating Disorder Council is still trying to determine exactly how much more to seek.

The council was created under a 2010 law, but Nixon axed its initial $150,000 appropriation in the 2012 budget. In fiscal 2013, Nixon initially withheld half of the council’s $78,850 allotment before eventually releasing it all. For the current budget year, the council is to get $39,425, but Nixon has restricted 4 percent of that.

“We’ll be asking for more money to run a number of programs,” council chairwoman Annie Seal told a legislative panel this past week. Seal was accompanied by a 30-year-old man who testified about his own struggles with the disorder.

“People in this state have very little understanding about the seriousness of (eating disorders) or the prevalence of them,” Seal said in a later interview. But “I’m hopeful that because we’ve been working now for six years to raise awareness and educate people that the legislators will see the seriousness of this and allocate more resources.”

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David A. Lieb has covered state government and politics for The Associated Press since 1995. Follow him at http://twitter.com/DavidALieb

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