Summer is moving right along! I had the pleasure of joining the Santa Fe Agri-Leaders group in Alma on Tuesday to partake in a summer ritual of their annual fish fry. The organization also awarded college scholarships to graduating seniors and inspected corn test plots. It was a great evening, and I appreciate the invitation to attend. If you would like to follow the group, you may find their page on Facebook.
Now, on to statewide news.
Missouri State Fair opens
Speaking of agriculture, the 113th Missouri State Fair opens today. As always, there will be lots of free entertainment, exhibits, good food, shows at the Grandstand, and returning this year, auto racing! For Fair information, please see: http://www.mostatefair.com/
Special elections for vacant seats
The governor recently set the date for special elections to fill the three House seats currently vacant. On November 3, Missourians in districts 29, 36 and 89 will have the opportunity to elect new representation in the Missouri House of Representatives. This is good news and much different from the 120th House District that sat vacant for more than a year before the governor called a special election.
The fact that current law allows the governor to set the special elections at his convenience has prompted several members of the House to propose a change. Legislation that was filed last year would have required the governor to call for a special election within 30 days of a seat becoming vacant. While the bill was filed too late in the process to make it across the legislative finish line, its sponsor plans to file and push for the bill's passage when the legislature returns for the 2016 session. Such a bill would ensure that Missourians receive adequate representation in their state government.
New emissions standards could be costly for Missourians
You probably know that Missouri is a state heavily reliant on coal to provide its electricity. As a result of the steady, and low, price of coal, Missouri has traditionally seen utility rates below the national average. However, with the release of the EPA's new Clean Power Plan, there are fears that the excessive regulations will soon drive up utility costs for Missourians. In fact, a study done by Energy Venture Analysis indicates Missourians could see their utility bills rise by as much as $1,000 annually by the year 2020 because of new regulations being handed down by the federal government.
The impact in Missouri could be even more dire because of the effect higher rates could have on citizens in impoverished rural areas. Missouri has 13 rural counties with persistent poverty and all of them are served by rural electric cooperatives. By putting new regulations in place, the EPA could cause rates to escalate to a point that many rural Missourians simply cannot afford, which is not a good situation in mid-January! Furthermore, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association has said that even a 10 percent increase in electricity prices would result in 1.2 million jobs lost in 2021 across the nation, with nearly 500,000 of those in rural communities. This would be a double negative whammy, so to speak.
The new plan has led to a public outcry from many of Missouri's public officials. U.S. Senator Roy Blunt pledged his support to fight against the Clean Power Plan in an effort to protect families, workers, and consumers in Missouri and around the nation. He noted that, "middle and low-income families are hit the hardest by bad energy policies resulting in higher utility bills, as
these families already spend a larger part of their paycheck on their energy bills." I will certainly do what I can to help keep utility costs under control as we adopt better, and cleaner, technology for the future. I believe there are solutions, we just need to apply common sense to the situation.
State revenues dip slightly
Missouri has seen a string of months with revenues at levels above those projected in the budget, but we recently received a bit of bad news as revenues for the month of July came in at a level lower than last year's. Missouri collected approximately $506.9 million in revenues last month, which is down from the $512.9 million collected during July 2014.
Some of the down turn came from refunds paid out in July. However, revenues were also down because of lower-than-expected collections of sales tax. In July 2014 the state collected $150.9 million in sales tax. This July that figure dropped to $148.2 million. Considering wages continue to increase and job growth continues to be healthy, the slight decline can likely be attributed to Missourians being hesitant to spend more of their earnings.
On a positive note, the state saw gross personal income tax collections increase by 5.1 percent. The state collected $373.4 million in July 2014 and $392.3 million this year. Corporate income and corporate franchise tax collections also increased by 19.2 percent. This year's total collection was $20.6 million, which is up from $17.2 million in July of last year. Although none of us like to pay taxes, more tax revenue is a sign of a health economy.