The Senate Appropriations Committee has met almost every day this week to pour over the budget recommendations sent over from the House of Representatives. According to the Missouri Constitution, budget legislation originates in the House. The Senate reviews the House’s budget and offers changes. The two versions are eventually reconciled by a conference committee before final numbers are presented to both chambers for approval.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I’ve been heavily involved in this process. In reviewing the numbers, I’ve noted a number of unfilled state employee positions in the budget. By my count, there are more than 200 “FTE” (full-time equivalent) staff positions that have remained vacant for more than a year. My concern is that some state agencies are padding their budgets by showing costs for jobs they don’t intend to fill. This is a classic case of bait and switch. They’re telling us that they’re spending money on staff, but they’re actually using the money for other purposes. This has to stop.
Paying for highways
One of the biggest challenges for the General Assembly this year is finding ways to fund our state’s infrastructure. Voters rejected a gasoline tax hike in November, so the Legislature must find another way to pay for road and bridge repairs. The governor has suggested borrowing $351 million to pay for improvements to 250 bridges around the state. The House has recommended committing $100 million per year for the next five years to fund road improvements.
I and several of my colleagues in the Senate have concerns about taking on debt to pay for these projects. We recognize the need for investment in the state’s infrastructure, but we want a more sustainable approach to funding these infrastructure projects.
Early this week the governor’s bonding proposal came before the Senate. I was one of several members of the Senate Conservative Caucus that raised objections to the authorizing legislation, Senate Concurrent Resolution 14. Our discussions on that measure kept lawmakers in the chamber until nearly 2 a.m., when the bill was laid over. The bonding proposal came up again, later in the week, with a number of modifications. Going forward, the plan is now for the state to issue $301 million in bonds to fund 215 bridge projects. The 35 projects dropped from the original bonding proposal will still be addressed, but money will come from general revenue. The bonds will be paid back over seven years. Although I’m still not convinced that borrowing money is the best approach, there’s a strong argument to be made that the bonds are necessary as we apply for federal money to rebuild the Interstate 70 Bridge near Rocheport.
I was humbled this week to receive recognition from the Missouri State Beekeepers Association and the Heartland Beekeepers Partnership. The beekeepers, along with the First Lady, honored me with a plaque in appreciation for my efforts to reduce the sales tax burden on Missouri’s honey producers. During the 2018 legislative session, bees and beekeeping supplies received the same exemption from sales tax that applies to livestock. I enjoyed working with the beekeepers on legislation throughout 2017 and ’18 and I appreciate the recognition.
Congratulations are due to students representing the first graduating class of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Central Missouri, who visited the Capitol this week. This master’s level degree program of the UCM School of Human Services prepares therapists to assist families with couples counseling, marriage enrichment, parenting and a number of emotional and behavioral challenges.
It was my pleasure to welcome a group from the Missouri Bankers Association to the Capitol this week. Bob Mickey of F&C Bank of Holden was part of the group’s Target Banker grassroots advocacy delegation that called on legislators in Jefferson City.
As always, I appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at 573-751-4302. You may also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.