Capitol Report, September 2, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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+ A note from Phill [Entered: 09/01/2011]

Friends,

At the bottom is the second installment of Capitol Perspectives — this time without the first sentence cut off.

A few of you have asked for a photo of me to run with this. Here are three possibilities. The first two are pictures that were taken of me while in the Senate chamber. The third was taken by one of my students last winter outside the Capitol. I kind of like it, although it makes me look like some sort of hoodlum don.

Let me know if you’d like something different. It’s no problem to get another.

PhillPhill1 [ http://mdn.org/brooksp/phill1.jpg ] Phill2 [ http://mdn.org/brooksp/phill2.jpg ] Phill3 [ http://mdn.org/brooksp/phill3.jpg ]

+ and governor prepare for legislature’s special session [Entered: 08/30/2011]

Just days before the legislature’s special session starts on Sept. 6, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed hope it would be a “crisp” session that would last just a couple of weeks.

But the day before the governor’s Wednesday [Aug. 31] meeting with reporters, there were signs that the governor’s plan to provide tax breaks for business development and a China hub in St. Louis would face opposition.

At a work group of state senators discussing the plan, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, termed the proposed tax breaks approaching $500 million as “irresponsible.”

The Senate’s Ways and Means Committee chair, Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said Crowell was not the only member who had concerns about the package.

Many of the tax breaks in the package drafted by the governor’s office and legislative leaders focus on the development of an international trade hub project at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.

Purgason said the proposal is still a work in progress and a lot more debate is needed during the special legislative session. After the public session, Purgason and a few other senators met behind closed doors in an effort to iron out differences.

Purgason, one of the Senate’s most outspoken budget hawks, has said that the savings in reducing tax credits was worth the cost of the China hub tax breaks.

Crowell said because the state’s budget is so tight, he doesn’t think there is room for irrational spending.

Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/WORKSES.HTM]

[By: Matt Evans[Email: mletg2@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 660-525-1313)]

+ Highway patrol increases roadway and lake patrol during Labor Day weekend [Entered: 09/01/2011]

With one of the biggest holiday weekends approaching for the Lake of the Ozarks, the Missouri State Highway Patrol increased the amount of police presence on both highways and waterways starting Friday [Sept. 2].

The potential for water and traffic accidents increases during summer holiday weekends at the Lake of the Ozarks, officers said.

“Make sure you designate a sober skipper if you’re going to have alcohol as part of your plan this weekend. Do that before you leave the dock so that there’s no question about it,” said Gerard Callahan, spokesman for the Missouri Water Patrol.

In addition to increased visible police presence on the lake, there are likely to be more sobriety checkpoints. Officers also plan to increase patrol on all major Missouri highways to cut down on aggressive drivers.

Last year, four people were killed on Missouri waterways over Labor Day weekend. An additional 10 people were killed and 515 injured in traffic accidents. Police responded to more than 1,000 traffic crashes.

Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/OZARKPD.HTM]

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MSHPLBOR.HTM]

[By: Stacey Kafka[Email: smkcm8@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 630-329-5886)]

+ Drug bust reveals underlying Interstate 70 problem [Entered: 09/01/2011]

Missouri State Highway Patrol arrested Arizona citizen Jose Lopez in Callaway County on Wednesday [Aug. 31] after discovering 132 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. However, this is a regular occurrence on Interstate 70, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant Paul Reinsch.

According to a highway patrol officer, the expressway’s central location running east and west is a prime outlet for drug traffickers.

“Drugs of all kinds are traveling up and down our highways every day,” Reinsch said.

Marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin are all natives to I-70, he said. Reinsch also said prescription drugs are increasingly common on mid-Missouri roads.

“Prescription drugs are the second-most popular source of intoxication in Missouri,” the Transformations Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center states on its website. It also says painkillers and anti-depressants are a trend that is spreading rapidly across the stretch of Missouri.

Lopez has been charged with possession of marijuana and trafficking drugs. Reinsch said the highway patrol does not know where he was planning on making a sale, but they are confident he had full intention of distributing it. The fact Lopez traveled through four states indicates how vital I-70 is to drug traffickers, he said.

Lopez is being held at the Callaway County Jail.

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/REINSCH.HTM]

[By: Jessi Turnure[Email: jatmb7@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 314-780-1078)]

+ Senior Democrat in Missouri’s legislature defends Republican auditor’s lawsuit arguments [Entered: 08/31/2011]

While defending the arguments raised in the lawsuit, Rep. Chris Kelly D-Columbia, says Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich has no legal standing to sue Gov. Jay Nixon.

“I agree with Schweich that this was an overreach on the part of the governor,” Kelly, an attorney in Columbia, said Wednesday [Aug. 31]. “I disagree with him constitutionally.”

In a previous budget committee hearing, Kelly blamed the legislature for the executive spending power. He said they failed to control a provision giving the governor the power to use estimates, called “1E,” to determine disaster relief funding.

The estimate provision allows money from the treasury to provide for expenses of any state agency responding during a declared emergency at the discretion of the governor, provided the services furnish immediate aid and relief.

One of the complaints listed in the lawsuit was that Nixon’s budget cut funds from Republican entities, namely the auditor’s office and Republican-controlled legislature, but not Democratic offices.

“I think the suit is political,” Kelly said.

Schweich said his motivation is government transparency; a scathing St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial named cuts from his own budget as his true motivation.

Kelly has called for legislation to close administrative budget flexibility during the next legislative session.

“The place to resolve this is in the appropriations process,” said Kelly. “Not in the courts.”

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/KELLOP.HTM]

Note: See Capitol Perspectives column for more on “1E.”

[By: Stephanie Ebbs[Email: ebbs.stephanie@gmail.com, Cell: 618-525-4700)]

+ State auditor fires back at scathing St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial [Entered: 08/30/2011]

State Auditor Tom Schweich expressed his anger with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Tuesday [Aug. 30], saying the paper’s editorial about his lawsuit against the governor was “corrupt, dishonest, and a total disservice to the people of Missouri.”

The Post-Dispatch opinion article, published Tuesday [Aug. 30] morning, attacked Schweich’s lawsuit and suggested political motivations. The editorial charged Schweich is more concerned about his own budget, which suffered a $300,000 cut by the governor, than the needs of Joplin.

“Mr. Schweich wants the court and the public to believe that his budget is more important than helping [the] city rebuild,” the editorial read.

“To suggest that I would sacrifice the people of Joplin for my own budget … [that] is beyond the pale,” Schweich said at a news conference Tuesday [Aug. 30].

Schweich said his suit is based on enforcing the state constitution, which authorizes the governor to withhold appropriated funds only if revenues fall below the estimate upon which the budget was based.

Schweich said the governor’s withholdings had taken funds appropriated by the legislature for programs including Medicaid, state universities and the transportation department.

In an earlier letter to Nixon and in the lawsuit, Schweich said the governor’s budget director has failed to present any data indicating that tax collections have fallen below estimates since the budget year began July 1.

Schweich said he expected an apology from the St. Louis newspaper.

Nixon was questioned about the auditor’s news conference at an event in Mexico, Mo.

“I will continue to manage the finances of the state of Missouri in a prudent way that has become the standard of our state for many, many years,” Nixon said in response to a question raised by Columbia TV station KOMU.

By: Ashley Massow[Email: armgy5@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 847-858-1906)]

+ Health care provider SynCare no longer working with Missouri’s Medicaid patients [Entered: 09/01/2011]

Missouri’s Health Department and the company that provided screening and assessment services for Medicaid patients cut their ties on Thursday [Sept. 1]. The Health Department announced it was terminating the contract with SynCare the day after administration officials were questioned by the House Budget Committee as to why the state was working with a private contractor that failed to fulfill the terms of the $11.4 million contract. SynCare released a statement announcing its separation from the state as well.

Health Department Director Margaret Donnelly issued a written statement Thursday [Sept. 1], saying, “The company is not able to meet the terms and conditions of their contract.”

The company was hired to provide support and assessment of care plans but had not been able to handle the volume of calls.

SynCare had been allowed to bill the state for 50 percent of its work but had already fallen behind. Lawmakers argued for the immediate termination of the contract at the Wednesday [Aug. 31] budget meeting, although the health department’s deputy director, Peter Lyskowski voiced concern that terminating the contract would create a void in service.

Budget chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said severing ties with SynCare was the correct decision.

“This has been a disaster since day one and I will be demanding that the department take any measures necessary to make the Missouri taxpayer whole,” Silvey said.

Silvey reviewed SynCare from the Office of Administration evaluation, which cited the fragmented nature of providing service, poor ratio of supervisors to staff, lack of detail in the execution model and no back-up plan.

According to the document, “There is concern with the plan with oversight to ensure satisfactory performance.”

Committee members said Wednesday [Aug. 31] that the department was partially to blame for awarding SynCare the contract.

“We’re not satisfied with the performance on a number of fronts,” said Lyskowski. “But it would be irresponsible to just point the finger at SynCare.”

Get the text story from the committee hearing. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SYNCARE.HTM ]

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SYNCARE1.HTM]

+ FEMA delays funding for Joplin while focus is turned to the East [Entered: 08/29/2011]

With the recent damage caused by Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, the Federal Emergency Disaster Agency’s disaster relief funds are wearing thin, and Joplin is no longer a priority.

FEMA has adopted an “immediate needs” strategy that provides relief to those disaster areas most in need.

Joplin’s tornado that hit almost three months ago does not earn the Missouri town a spot on FEMA’s immediate needs list. The residents of Joplin must wait until FEMA can afford to send them more funding.

FEMA spokesperson Josh Deberge said that while areas with the most immediate needs, such as the East Coast, will receive funding first, all disaster areas including Joplin will receive promised money.

“Basically what it means is there are permanent projects out there that were associated with disasters, that the money for those projects will likely be delayed,” Deberge said. “That does not mean that there will be a reduction of funds or that money will be taken away.”

FEMA said it will return to normal operations when Congress votes to replenish the fund. It doesn’t know when that will happen.

For now, relief is focused on the East, but FEMA promised recovery efforts in Joplin will not be left unfinished.

Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/FEMADEL.HTM]

[By: Rebecca Woolf[Email: rmwr43@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 317-828-5131)]

+ Capitol Perspectives – 1E [Entered: 09/01/2011]

It’s the legislature’s approach to budgeting as much as the governor’s actions that are at the center of the lawsuit that the state auditor has filed against Gov. Jay Nixon’s budget withholdings for natural disaster relief.

At the center of the issue are the characters “1E” that you’ll find in the state’s budget, including financial support for tornado-ravaged Joplin and the flooded areas of Missouri.

The history of those two characters represents a fundamental shift in the control of the state’s budget, which has been evolving in Missouri government during the past few decades.

Although there is no legal definition for that “1E” entry, the two characters are supposed to mean “one dollar, estimated.”

Years ago, the “E” character was added to federal funds that are provided to the state for specific programs. Authority to spend federal funds must be included in the appropriations. Often, however, the legislature does not know exactly how much federal money will be available for a specific program before the legislature has to finish the budget.

The federal budget year starts three months after Missouri’s — and Congress often misses that deadline. So, by the time Missouri’s budget must be passed in May, state officials often do not have a precise idea how much federal funding will be available for various programs.

To deal with that problem, someone came up with the idea years ago to add the letter “E” at the end of some of the dollar figures in the budget that involved federal funds. Without any formal legal explanation of the character, there has been a general understanding that the letter “E” after an appropriations figure essentially indicates that an agency could “spend all it can get.”

While the “E” approach initially was limited to federal funds, a few years back the legislature began adding the letter “E” to appropriations of state tax dollars, called General Revenue.

But General Revenue is a quite different pot of money. It is money over which the legislature most definitely has control to allocate. Those funds cannot be spent without authorization from the legislature and the governor. And unlike a lot of federal money, the state can keep for the next year any unspent General Revenue funds.

At the same time, government budget folks gave up even trying to estimate how much might be involved. So, for disaster relief appropriations from General Revenue this year, there is just the numeral “1” followed by the letter “E” to designate some undefined quantity of money to be spent.

Maybe, as budget leaders have argued with me over the years, this approach makes sense for federal funds over which the state has no control as to the amount of money the state will get. But if “1E” is added next to state tax dollars for an agency, who decides how much? Can it be expanded to such an amount that funds for other agencies must be cut?

To understand how this relates to the state auditor’s lawsuit against the governor, take a look at Section 8.300 of Missouri’s current budget. There you will find an appropriation of “1E” to cover emergency assistance by “any state agency responding during a declared emergency at the direction of the governor” to “furnish immediate aid and relief.”

What happens if that $1 becomes $150 million from state General Revenue spending, as the governor proposes? What happens if the governor makes it even more?

Is there no limit to how much money the governor can spend from a “1E” budget line? Can the governor make that “1E” expenditure so large that other appropriations have to be cut, or withheld?

And, as one senior Democrat in Missouri’s legislature has asked, can the legislature even delegate to someone else its constitutional responsibilities to control General Revenue?

It’s not very often that Missouri’s courts are asked to answer such a fundamental question about the balance of powers in Missouri government.

As always, let me know (via column@mdn.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.

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