Budget proposals that include cuts to state-sponsored healthcare, social services and nearly the governor's personal chef passed through the House Budget committee Wednesday, March 10, after a marathon, 14-hour committee hearing.
The $22.8 billion statewide budget being proposed for fiscal year 2010 (which begins July 1) is about $100 million less than the amount approved for this year. It ignores Gov. Jay Nixon's attempts to loosen eligibility requirements for Medicaid and reduces funding for social services -- including mental health and senior services -- by millions of dollars.
The series of 13 appropriations bills would provide more money for veterans' programs and would not slash the more than $526 million in funding for K-12 education and certain college scholarship programs as originally proposed.
Nixon, himself, came under the ax at several points during Wednesday's hearing.
His Office of Administration received approximately $6 million in cuts, and, at one point, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Jackson County, even sponsored an amendment that would have fired the executive chef in the governor's mansion -- a $45,000 per year position.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Silvey's amendment -- one of 259 proposed at Wednesday's hearing -- was "a little bit out of reach."
Kelly said he fundamentally disagrees with House Budget Committee chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, on healthcare funding but added that he was not surprised by the outcome of most of the amendment proposals. The former chair of the committee went on to compliment Icet's management skills as budget chairman.
"I have incredible admiration for his handling of the process in a very, very challenging and complex year," Kelly said.
►State unemployment tops 8 percent «Entered: 03/12/2009»
Missouri unemployment is at its highest rate in more than a quarter-century, figures from the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations show. They also indicate that double the number of Missourians filed for unemployment compensation in February compared to the same month one year ago.
Department spokeswoman Wanda Seeney said the spike in February was the largest over a one-month period in 33 years.
It has caused state unemployment offices to hire additional staff, reopen certain claim centers and rely on workers who volunteer overtime hours, Seeney said in an interview Wednesday, March 11.
►Nixon's job package stalls in Senate «Entered: 03/12/2009»
In January, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, asked Missouri legislators to have a job-creation bill ready for his signature by mid-March.
But when state lawmakers recessed for their annual spring break Thursday, March 12, no such bill had reached the governor's desk.
A bill currently under consideration in the Senate does incorporate some of Nixon's proposals under a "Quality Jobs Act." In particular, it offers tax incentives to businesses that create jobs at or above the average county-wide wage and include health insurance.
But a much broader goal of more heavily regulating the use of tax credits across the state emerged in discussion on the Senate floor Thursday.
According to The Associated Press, more than $500 million in potential state revenue went unrealized last year because of tax credits.
State Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, who sponsored the current Senate bill, commented on this fact Thursday, saying, "If we're going to have expansion [of tax credits], you also need reasonable reforms, the checks and balances that ensure accountability to the taxpayers."
If passed in its current form, his legislation would set limits on tax credits -- for historic reservation and low-income housing, to name a couple -- but would raise the cap on other tax credits for expanding small businesses.
It would also strip some of the autonomy of the governor-appointed commission that oversees the dispersement of various tax incentives -- all without legislative review. Potential changes to that commission, the Missouri Development Finance Board, include involving chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees in the decision-making process and creating a $10 million limit on the amount of tax credits the board can allot each year.
One of the bill's most vocal opponents, Republican senator Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, said he supports eliminating the finance board's ability to issue tax credits altogether, instead giving authority to state legislators directly.
"All the tax credits the Missouri Development Finance Board issued during the Blunt administration were projects that would never gain legislative approval -- ever," Crowell said. "It's an abuse of power; it's an abusive process; and it must end."
According to Warrensburg Republican David Pearce, the perceived rush to get a ready-to-implement, job-creation bill to Gov. Nixon by Thursday was mostly "symbolic." He noted that many components of the bill would not go into effect until August.
And Lager added, "I understand the governor; he was hopeful (the bill) would get there by (Thursday), but what is more important to us -- especially after what we saw in Washington -- was this isn't about doing it fast. It's about doing it right."
The bill is scheduled to be heard again after the Senate reconvenes Wednesday, March 18.
►Measure would strip power from MoDOT for stimulus-funded projects «Entered: 03/12/2009»
A bill that met approval in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday, March 9, could remove control from Missouri Department of Transportation officials in determining how to spend federal stimulus funds on transportation projects throughout the state.
That power would instead be reserved for Missouri lawmakers under the bill being sponsored by Appropriations Committee chair Gary Nodler, R-Joplin.
Nodler says the legislature has allowed MoDOT to handle federal funds for years, but the Missouri Constitution always allows lawmakers to step in.
"The legislature basically has abdicated responsibility for oversight of the development of the transportation system, which is our Constitutional responsibility," he stated at Monday's committee hearing.
MoDOT director Pete Rahn commented that, while the bill might not be unconstitutional, it could lead to problems down the road.
Rahn said that allowing legislative oversight of the federal money would lower Missouri's bond rating, in turn, causing the state to have to offer a higher interest rate to attract investors.
According to Rahn, that could jeopardize several projects that are being considered by his department.
Nodler's bill still awaits final approve by the entire Missouri Senate before it can be sent to the House for consideration.
►Noodlers, micro-chips and seat belts «Entered: 03/12/2009»
Other bills receiving consideration the week of March 9 include: