As the legislative session begins to wind down, the final work on next year's state budget is at full throttle. This past week, budget negotiators ironed out the final details of Missouri's spending plan for fiscal year 2005. Education will receive a significant increase and state employees will get their first raise in three years.
Providing more money for our public schools was the top funding priority of state lawmakers. With an additional $143 million for elementary and secondary education in the budget, we met our goal. Additionally, the state's colleges and universities will receive $20 million more than current funding.
This budget is the result of good financial news to our state. The economy is improving, which means Missourians are making and spending more money. Growing state revenues have made it possible to substantially increase education funding and protect other vital state services.
Because of the important role education plays in the future of our state, lawmakers funded our public schools before allocating money to any other part of the state budget. A total of $4.7 billion will go to education in Missouri, making up nearly one-fourth of the state's spending. When all funds are considered, this is the largest appropriation ever adopted for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
For the first time in three years, all state employees will receive a pay raise. As healthcare costs continue to rise and state workers have not received pay increases due to tight budget times, this $1,200 across-the-board raise is overdue. Also, the salary scale for Missouri Highway Patrol troopers will improve under this budget. The change will help recruit and retain more troopers. That will result in better-patrolled highways and save the state money by discouraging troopers from leaving for jobs which currently offer better benefits.
In order to protect our seniors, the new budget continues current funding of the Meals on Wheels program and provides Medicaid health services to more seniors and disabled Missourians. Currently, seniors and the disabled can qualify for Medicaid of their annual income is less than 90 percent of the federal poverty level. Under the new budget these individuals, who are among the neediest Missourians, would qualify at 95 percent poverty.
While efforts were made to curb the growth in Medicaid welfare, state spending on social services still received a significant increase. Funding for foster care reforms such as fingerprints and background checks for foster parents is included. Additionally, the Department of Social Services will implement a program designed to make it more efficient and accountable.
The budget also gives a boost to agriculture with increased funding for ethanol production incentives. This money will help defray farmers' start-up costs for ethanol production plants and enhance Missouri's rural economy.
Although proposed by the governor, the General Assembly did not close the Chillicothe Woman's Prison or the Cottonwood or El Dorado Springs mental health treatment facilities. These facilities are important in creating jobs for area residents and in providing services for those who need them.
Missouri's priorities of education, jobs and the protection of our most vulnerable citizens are apparent in the spending plan for our state. Lawmakers have worked many months to cut waste, fraud and abuse from the budget and continue protecting the vital services on which Missourians depend.