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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 11/4/2009 - Archived File

Missouri's governor announced budget cuts Oct. 28 that are expected to eliminate about 200 full-time jobs -- and the top House budget leader said he expects more to come.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, announced $204 million in spending cuts in Missouri's budget Wednesday. Almost 700 full- and part-time jobs were eliminated in cuts that affected departments across the board.

House Budget Chair Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, and Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said they expect Nixon will have to cut even more than the $634 million in with-holdings and vetoes he has already made.

"The governor is hedging a bit," Icet said, Nixon will "have to come back and make further reductions."

Nixon, while not specifically ruling out additional cuts, said he thinks state revenue will begin to increase. Currently, Missouri's revenue collections are down 10 percent compared to last year. Nixon said he hopes the decline will raise to the 5 to 6 percent range.

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Medicaid and other health care expenditures topped Gov. Jay Nixon's list as he announced $204 million in budget cuts announced Wednesday.

Health advocates said there would be an impact on care.

Under Nixon's plan, Medicaid programs face a loss of more than $32 million, mental health programs will lose $3 million and hospitals and clinics around the state, including those in the UM Health Care System, will lose $3 million.

Despite these cuts, Nixon insisted to reporters at a Wednesday news conference that services will not be drastically affected.

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Missouri has only received 220,000 of the 750,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine it has requested.

The bulk of the vaccine received by the state has gone to areas with the most high risk people such as St. Louis and Kansas City.

Pregnant women and children have the highest risk of infection so they are given priority.

Health Department spokesman Kit Wagar said the delay comes from slower than expected production of the vaccine.

To make the medicine, small holes are punched in fertilized chicken eggs. The virus is then inserted into the egg to grow. Once the virus has matured, it is taken out.

"They purify it, blend it, then package it and send it out," Wagar said. "They're accustomed to getting so many doses per egg and productivity has been much lower than usual. They're just not producing as quickly as they'd hoped."

Missouri had 5,365 flu cases in the first two weeks of flu season. Flu season officially started Oct. 4.

Wagar said there are normally 5 to 30 cases within that time frame.

"It's a drastically increased number this year," Wagar said.

He said during the 2008 flu season, which lasted from October to May, the state had 11,300 cases.

"We've had almost half that many in two weeks," Wager said.

Wagar said he hopes vaccines will be available to everyone who wants one by early December.

According to the Missouri weekly influenza report, there were 2,643 new flu cases the week of Oct. 17. Of those 107 cases have been confirmed as H1N1.

The state receives new shipments of the H1N1 vaccine every day, he said.

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Get the latest H1N1 and flu information from the state here. [ ]

The number of inmates in Missouri's jails is at an all-time high, but state corrections officials said the state has more than enough room.

The high of 30,720, which has dropped by 12 inmates since the number was announced at the end of September by the Corrections Department, does not worry the department -- they can hold at least 500 more prisoners.

The department has no firm explanation for why the prison population is so high right now, but Corrections Department spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine said an increase in crime and more stringent sentencing could be a factor.

Lapine said some areas, like St. Louis, have been told to move their cases through the court system faster.

The majority of intakes have been for a new or first offense, with a 39 percent increase since July 1, 2008.

While the numbers are high for Missouri, it won't lead to early releases due to overcrowding, Lapine said.

One Missouri legislator disagreed with the department's claim that high number is "not a problem."

Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said that Missouri prisons are currently overpopulated and that it is "a problem we have to take in the legislature."

The legislature, he said, should look at and further research other options, like private prisons.

Currently Missouri has two private prisons, in Holden and Bethany, but he said there may need to be more. Hoskins said that creating more private prisons is "a viable option," but first he would like to make sure that the current private prisons are being utilized properly.

Holden is in Hoskins' district.

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Gov. Jay Nixon's appointment of Kansan David Kerr as the state's new economic development director brought mixed reactions from state Republican leaders Tuesday.

Kerr previously served as Kansas' Commerce Secretary. Before that he was president of AT&T Kansas for four years.

The announcement came after Nixon's original choice for the position, Linda Martinez, stepped down in September. She resigned suddenly and wrote a letter to the governor expressing frustration over cooperation. Katie Steele Danner served as interim director.

"David Kerr has an impressive resume of success as both the leader of a state economic development agency and in the private sector as a top executive with one of the largest telecommunications companies in the country, " the governor said in a press release. "His experience will be a great asset to Missouri in the competition to attract and retain the good-paying jobs that will make the best use of our highly skilled, trained workforces."

In a press release, the Missouri GOP blamed Nixon's "petty personal conflicts" for a lack of leadership in the Economic Development Department.

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Although the rain has been hurting some crops, it's not hurting berry farmers.

Greg Busacker, of SGB Farms out of Boone County says the rain has helped.

"You know, they're water loving plants. The roots are shallow and don't go much deeper than about 8 inches," Busacker said.

According to the National Weather Service, eighteen of twenty-seven days in October have had precipitation.

"I think I'm done irrigating for the year. Last year, I even irrigated once or twice in November because it was pretty dry," Busacker said.

According to the Farmer's Almanac in 2007 some berry crops were damaged due to early freezing.

Proposed cap-and-trade legislation could provide a "huge risk" to Missourians, said Warren Wood, president of the Missouri Energy Development Association.

The Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future held a hearing Oct. 26, consisting mostly of testimony from energy industry officials

All of the witnesses said they were worried that the Waxman-Markey bill, also known as cap-and-trade, would increase unemployment and consumer energy rates in Missouri.

The bill was approved this summer by the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate has not considered the bill.

Diane Vuylsteke, a lawyer for Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers, warned that if legislation like cap and trade causes energy rates to go up too quickly, the state will begin to lose it's businesses.

The Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers represents the energy interests of Missouri's largest companies, including Anheuser-Busch and Proctor and Gamble.

Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, said he was tried of hearing that argument.

"If we (currently) have cheap rates, why did Chrysler and Ford shut down?" Green said. "We didn't increase rates... (and those plants) shut down anyways. This is the opportunity I have to voice my frustration."

Green's comment was the only opposing opinion voiced.

The committee will hold its next meeting Nov. 2 at the Reynolds Alumni Association on the University of Missouri campus.

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