Capitol Reports, Jan. 20, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

Headline:  Public universities hit hardest under governor’s budget proposal [Entered: 01/17/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

Public universities would bear the brunt of Missouri’s budget shortfall under the 2013 budget proposal Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon presented Tuesday [Jan. 17] during his State of the State address.

Nixon’s budget would cut all public universities by 15 percent of appropriations approved by the legislature last year for 2012. It would be the largest percentage cut to Missouri’s public universities in the past two decades. Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the cuts “unacceptable.”

“Can public universities survive with that kind of cut?” Schaefer asked.

A top Democrat and educator on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was concerned about the universities. Lampe said she did not know how the colleges would be able to survive such a cut without raising tuition.

In an hour-long speech, Nixon made only one brief reference to the higher education cuts.

“I am calling on our colleges and universities to continue to look for more ways to cut overhead administrative costs and run smarter, more efficient operations,” Nixon said. “And while leaner, more efficient operations are essential, higher education must continue to adapt to the modern economy.”

Legislative budget leaders and administration staffers have been warning for some time that the state would face deep spending cuts once the state stopped getting the federal economic recovery funds that had been used to balance budgets in the past few years.

In addition, the federal government has cut by one percent the share it contributes to cover Medicaid, the program that provides health care coverage for the lower income. Medicaid is one of the state’s larger budget items. Adding further to the problem, the federal government has prohibited states from cutting back Medicaid coverage.

The end of federal economic recovery funds and the Medicaid changes have created budget problems for states across the country; some states face budget shortfalls far deeper than Missouri.

The budget constraints led to a near stand-still budget proposed by the governor for primary and secondary education. The School Foundation Program, the $3.3 billion program by which the state allocates most of its education money to public schools, would be cut by $5 million under Nixon’s budget proposal.

In his State of the State address, however, Nixon emphasized a $5 million increase he was proposing in the per-student-based formula. His cuts are in funding for school transportation and the Parents as Teachers program, which was started by former Gov. Kit Bond.

Despite Nixon’s increase to school districts, the funding would still be about $500 million below what the school funding law requires for a fully funded system.

“We must find a solution that applies the foundation formula fairly and predictably,” Nixon said.

Nixon also called on legislators to address the unaccredited schools in St. Louis and Kansas. The governor, however, did not present any specific proposal for handling the unaccredited districts.

House and Senate committees met later in the week to take up the school funding problem, but the House committee delayed action for a couple of weeks to give members more time to study the issue.

* Get the text story on the State of the State [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/GOVBUD.HTM].

* Get the text story on the School Foundation Formula committee sessions [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SCHOOLS.HTM ] .

* Get the table of the governor’s budget proposals [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/DATA/BUD13.HTM ] .

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Headline:  State spending limit approved by Missouri House of Representatives [Entered: 01/19/2012]

By Sherman Fabes

The Missouri House of Representatives approved legislation on Thursday [Jan. 19] to add an amendment to the state Constitution that would put a cap on future state spending.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, sponsored the constitutional amendment, which was the first bill passed by the House this legislative session.

If approved by the legislature, the measure will require statewide voter approval to become part of the Missouri Constitution.

The proposal would cap annual spending increases at 1.5 percent of the collected revenue from the previous year, with an adjustment for population growth and inflation. One analyst estimated those adjustments could raise the cap as much as 7 percent.

At the House Budget Committee hearing last week, former House Budget Committee Chair Allen Icet, who served as a Republican representative from St. Louis County, traveled back to the Capitol to support the bill and explain why it would help with the booms and busts that have become common in the state budget.

“When the state of Missouri has good years from a revenue standpoint, that there is a limitation put in place so that the General Assembly simply cannot spend every dime knowing full well if nothing else that is simply not sustainable,” Icet said.

The measure cleared the House on a near party-line vote with most of the chamber’s Democrats voting against the measure.

“Let’s not constantly amend the Constitution to try to solve future problems but instead elect good people to make good decisions about the future when the future gets here,” said Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City.

The issue now moves to the Senate. If the Senate passes the measure, the measure would appear on the November 2012 ballot unless the governor placed it on an earlier ballot, such as the August primary.

* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/MHJR43.HTM]

* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/MOHJR43.HTM]

* Get the House roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote™8 ] .

* Get the proposal, HJR 43 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HJR&NUMC ] .

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Headline:  Missouri’s Supreme Court throws a monkey wrench into the November elections [Entered: 01/17/2012]

Missouri’s Supreme Court has rejected validating the redistricting maps for this year’s congressional and state Senate elections, potentially causing trouble down the road for this year’s elections.

With the congressional maps, the state high court ordered a lower court to hold further hearings on a challenge that the maps violate a requirement for compactness. In a unanimous decision, the court gave the lower court until Feb. 3 to make a decision, which gives the legislature time to come up with a new congressional district layout, if necessary.

The plan, approved by a Republican-controlled legislature over the Democratic governor’s veto, effectively eliminates the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan in St. Louis to meet the requirement for the state to eliminate one of its districts.

With the state Senate map, the court completely rejected the pending plan. Without a dissenting vote, the Supreme Court threw out the state Senate map that had been drawn by a panel of appeals court judges.

The panel actually issued two maps. The first, the court found, violated the constitution’s restriction on splitting counties between state Senate districts. The appeals court panel filed a second map to address that problem, but the Supreme Court ruled the panel had no power to rescind its original map.

The court’s decision throws the issue back to a several-month process that could extend beyond the August primary.

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Headline:  MoDOT warns I-70 could become parking lot if Missouri doesn’t create a toll [Entered: 01/17/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

Missouri Department of Transportation director Kevin Keith told the Joint Transportation Committee that 60-year-old Interstate 70 would become a “gravel parking lot” if nothing is done to address the road’s aging infrastructure.

Under MoDOT’s plan, a group of private companies would put forward the initial funding for the project and would be paid back by way of tolls I-70 users would pay.

“The option to do nothing with 70 is not there,” Keith said.

The proposed toll could reach 10 to 15 cents per mile for cars traveling along the highway and double that amount for semi-trucks. The toll would cost about $30 for a car traveling across the state. It would affect all I-70 users except on stretches in urban St. Louis and Kansas City, where MoDOT is not currently planning repairs. The project would be completed in six to eight years under MoDOT’s estimate.

Keith said the plan to repair I-70 would create thousands of jobs across the state, estimating that if $2 billion were invested in the highway, 6,000 jobs would be created per year.

Some lawmakers, however, said the toll road could end up costing the state jobs, particularly in the trucking industry. Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, said the increased user cost on I-70 would force companies to consolidate their shipments, therefore taking away trucking jobs.

“Those are the guys that are going to be taking it on the chin,” said Meadows, a former truck driver.

* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TOLL.HTM]

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Headline:  Missouri’s Supreme Court chief justice voices support for lowering some sentences [Entered: 01/18/2012]

In his State of the Judiciary address to lawmakers Wednesday [Jan. 18], Missouri Chief Justice Richard Teitelman voiced support for legislative efforts to reduce or eliminate prison sentences for some first-time, non-violent offenders.

“I support your efforts to help make sentencing practices more cost-effective, helping Missouri to become … both tough and smart on crime,” Teitelman said in his speech to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly.

For the past few years, chief justices have urged lawmakers to revise Missouri’s sentencing laws.

On Tuesday [Jan. 17], those efforts won the endorsement of House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.

“Many times you put non-violent offenders in jail, they become violent by the time they leave,” Tilley said. “I think community service, I think ankle bracelet-type monitoring is a much better use of taxpayer dollars.”

The legislative panel reviewing criminal sentences is expected to deliver its recommendations later this month.

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Headline:  Truckers and convenience store representatives show opposition to proposed I-70 toll [Entered: 01/18/2012]

By Brett Nardoni

Missouri lawmakers are discussing how to fund the repair of I-70 after a funding cut to the Missouri Department of Transportation, which says the highway is in serious need of repairs. One proposal to produce the necessary funds is to add a tollway along I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.

Ron Leone was speaking on behalf of gas stations, convenience stores and truck stops in Missouri, including those located along I-70. Leone said that he acknowledges the need for a better road system, but he said a privately funded tollway created in conjunction with the state is both a bad idea and bad public policy.

“First and foremost, it must, must go to a vote of the people,” Leone said. “You can not use PPPs (public-private partnerships) as a loophole to avoid a vote of the people.”

Leone explained that a public-private partnership would allow private companies to earn a profit on public assets, something he believes to be bad public policy.

* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/I70TOLL.HTM]

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Headline:  Senate committee tries again to roll back tax credits [Entered: 01/19/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

The Senate Ways and Means Committee considered legislation Thursday [Jan. 19] to scale back Missouri’s tax credits after the issue derailed September’s special legislative session.

Four bills were presented to the committee that would pare down tax credits in Missouri. Supporters of tax credit reduction said their measures would save the state money and free up revenue for other programs. In 2013, the state is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits.

During last year’s special session, changes to the state’s tax credits failed to pass as the House and Senate could not agree on the program’s sunsets, or expiration dates for programs. Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, sponsored one of the bills heard Thursday [Jan. 19].

Kraus’ bill would eliminate certain tax credits and apply the savings from the programs to lower the corporate income tax rate. Kraus said he hoped there would be enough additional revenue to get rid of the corporate income tax all together.

“This would make Missouri a much more business-friendly place for businesses to come,” Kraus said. “It eliminates the picking of winners and losers by different tax credits.”

The measure would lower the low-income housing and historic preservation tax credits to 25 percent of their current values by 2016. The low-income housing credit costs the state $60 million a year, and the historic preservation costs $140 million annually.

* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TAX.HTM].

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Headline:  House committee continues investigation of failed Mamtek plant [Entered: 01/19/2012]

By Andrew Weil

The House Government Oversight Committee heard testimony from three key witnesses on Thursday [Jan. 19] about the failure of Chinese company Mamtek’s venture in Moberly.

The first witness was Jeff Wise, Mamtek’s former patent lawyer since 2006. He testified via teleconference from Los Angeles and explained his knowledge of Mamtek and its factory in China. Wise told the committee he visited the factory multiple times between 2006 and 2009, but he said he didn’t know when the factory was actually in production during that time.

Committee Chairman Jay Barnes, R-Cole County, said there were areas where this could have been prevented.

“The trick is finding out a policy solution that doesn’t throw out good projects in the effort of preventing bad projects,” Barnes said.

After the hearing, Barnes also said he thought the committee now has a general idea of all the facts and that they might not need to question Mamtek’s CEO, Bruce Cole.

“Our goal as a legislative committee is to figure out what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future. I’m not sure what exactly Bruce Cole adds to that question,” Barnes said.

* Get the text story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/MAMTEK.HTM ]

* Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/MAMTEKH.HTM]

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Headline:  “Right-to-work” legislation makes reappearance in Missouri Capitol [Entered: 01/17/2012]

By Andrew Weil

The Senate General Laws Committee heard public testimony on two similar bills Tuesday [Jan. 17] that would make it illegal for employees to be forced to join unions.

One of the bills is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, who said he doesn’t feel like it’s a waste of time to bring the issue up again this session.

“I believe this is the single most important piece of legislation that we, the General Assembly, could pass to put Missouri on a solid path to economic recovery,” Mayer said.

The other bill is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield.

The largest difference between the two bills is that Mayer’s would require voter approval while Purgason’s would require the governor’s final approval.

Public supporters said employees shouldn’t be forced to pay money to a union that supports ideals the workers don’t support.

Opponents of the plan said there is no evidence that proves the state would see any economic growth through this plan.

* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/RIGHTTO.HTM].

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Headline:  Missouri legislature grasps at understanding public school funding [Entered: 01/18/2012]

By Stephanie Ebbs

The formula the Missouri General Assembly uses to calculate the money given to public schools is incredibly complicated: balancing enrollment, local tax revenue and benchmark wealth to determine each district’s funding. The House Education Committee delayed a vote on Wednesday [Jan. 18] to give members time to further study and understand the formula and the challenges it is facing.

The problem is that the current statute doesn’t include how to deal with a lack of significant funding increases.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensberg, and House Education Committee Chairman Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, are sponsoring separate bills to determine how funds would be distributed when the government does not have enough money to meet the formula’s appropriation increase requirements.

Legislators are under a time crunch to pass a provision to this formula because of concerns that drastic changes in funding could occur in the beginning of the next fiscal year.

The House committee will meet again in two weeks for an executive session. The Senate committee has not yet set a date to vote.

* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SCHOOLS.HTM]

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Headline:  Capitol Perspectives: State of the State – From Policy to Theater [Entered: 01/20/2012]

By Phill Brooks

Sitting in the House press gallery listening to Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State address, I began thinking back to about 30 years ago.

It was January 1981 when then-Gov. Kit Bond delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly.

Like today, Missouri was facing deep cuts in state spending growth. Like today, state government spending had grown at a rate that officials clearly knew could not be sustained. Like Nixon, Bond was facing a legislature dominated by the opposition’s political party.

But the similarities between now and 1981 end there. State of the State addresses have evolved to something quite different from what Bond and earlier governors of his era had presented to the legislature.

Decades ago, the State of the State was a detailed policy presentation. Unlike Nixon’s address, Bond went at great length discussing the state’s budget problems and his spending proposals. He outlined a detailed legislative agenda. His speech was filled with specific facts and numbers as to the causes for the budget crisis, the steps he had taken and the further steps he recommended to the legislature. It was a detailed and complicated public policy plan.

In the past, the governor’s speech was followed by a news conference at which the governor’s proposals were explored even more in-depth. Unlike today, bills containing the governor’s agenda were identified along with legislators who had agreed to sponsor the proposals.

In fact, for some of the earlier governors I’ve covered, the legislative agenda presented in the State of the State was not much of a surprise. There would have been any number of prior policy briefings with the governor, legislators and agency experts about what the governor would propose.

I do not intend to suggest that Nixon has departed from standard practice. Rather, it has been a slow evolution during several different administrations that has changed Missouri’s State of the State from a policy address to something akin to political theater.

Why the change?

One major factor was moving the address from daytime into the evening. The evening schedule began with then-Gov. Matt Blunt in 2005 to attract a prime-time TV audience. Making the State of the State a TV performance fundamentally changed the nature and purpose of the State of the State.

It no longer is an address to legislators. It’s a speech to the general public and, of course, to the voters. The boring minutia of policy that legislators want to hear is not going to sell as a TV performance for the general public.

In fact, for the past few years the State of the State has been so devoid of policy content that the House Budget Committee chairman has left the chamber just before the governor begins his speech so he can study the details of the budget documents delivered to legislators as part of the speech.

Some of the change from policy to theater can be attributed to former President Ronald Reagan. With his State of the Union addresses, Reagan made an art form of introducing to Congress heroes and other private citizens with inspiring stories.

Missouri governors started following suit with, it seems, more and more of the State of State address consumed with personal vignettes. Nixon’s speech included six different personal stories, individuals and families introduced to the joint session.

With an evening presentation, it’s too late for substantive policy briefings to answer questions and explore the details of the governor’s proposals after the speech. Instead, the next day’s news stories are pretty much restricted to information from the speech, a hasty review of the budget that reporters got that evening and reaction from legislators who know little more about the governor’s plan than what they heard from the governor’s speech.

In fact, just before Nixon’s presentation, top legislative leaders acknowledged they had no idea what the governor was going to propose.

As a result, formal reaction from the opposition party tends to be another speech that might have little relationship to what the governor had to say. That happened after Nixon’s speech. The formal Republican response actually had been recorded before the governor even spoke.

Maybe there should be two State of the State addresses — one for the general public and one for the legislators themselves, given only after lawmakers have a day or so to review the accompanying budget documents. I suspect that would go a long way to elevating the discourse in your state government.

As always, let me know (at 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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[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.

Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]

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