Workforce Standards & Development - Chairman
Property, Casualty, & Life Insurance
Select Committee on Labor & Industrial Relations
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Last week we heard the President's State of the Union Address and the Governor's State of the State Address, as well as the Chief Justice's State of the Judiciary Address. With the exception of Chief Justice Mary Russell, about all we heard was how great a job was done last year and how wonderful things are going to be this year...if you don't mind coming up with a bunch more tax money. Nearly every proposal the Governor made necessitated a new funding stream (that's politician language for new taxes). The morning after the speech I received a bunch of emails demanding that we balance the budget. I answered all of them the same way. Missouri has a balanced budget amendment in the constitution. We HAVE to balance the budget. I promise you, that is a good thing. I readily admit that our schools could use more money and certainly we need more money for children's and senior services and it would be great to have more tax incentives for rebuilding our historic areas but Missouri as a State is no different than we are with our household budgets. There are certain things that we are obligated by our Constitution to fund first. Education gets no less than 25% of the General Revenue as an example. But if we want to increase money to one project without raising the tax burden, it has to come from another program's budget. I don't envy the Budget Director and his committee members one little bit. They have their job cut out for them. It is a common practice for this Governor to announce budget cuts for sensitive programs for their shock value. Last week he eliminated the budget for Cyber Crimes and housing for the Developmentally Disabled. I had people in my office, people stopping me in the halls, my phones blew up, and well you get the picture. We stopped what we were working on and started visiting with Senators and writing letters to the Governor's office and got the cuts eliminated. He made his point by saying that we have to make cuts to fund other needy programs because we don't have any new tax money coming in. All in all, we're not in terrible shape as a State. Our "revenue streams" are starting to trickle again and things do look a lot better for this coming year. Naturally, there will be needs appearing faster than the funds to pay for them, but that's just like home too! I'm optimistic that our Speakers' plan to work on Economic development and Job growth will work as well as projected.
The first week of session is behind us. It was filled with a lot of procedural mish mash, such as the annual discussion of smoking in the offices. As long as there are a few Senators and Reps who smoke, there will be this yearly wrestling match. It is one of the truly bi-partisan things going on. The smoker's argument is that during long debate days when there are many votes necessary, members cannot go to the street level outside the building to sneak a smoke. It gets debated for a while and then finally it is decided that members may smoke in their offices behind closed doors with the windows open. I guess it's better than the old days when there were spittoons all along the aisles.
Committee assignments were made and I was again named Workforce Chairman. I also am Chair of the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect and sit on the Transportation Committee, the Casualty Insurance Committee, and a new one called Emerging Issues. I'm figuring that committee is where we will be hearing all the proposals for solutions to the Ferguson problem. As a kid 50 years ago I lived within a few miles of St.Louis. It was a tremendously different place then as were all big cities. Even then change was on the way. Business and industry was on the move from urban areas to more rural locations. Big strip malls were replacing busy downtown areas and housing developments were springing up on the outskirts of towns. To serve the new population sprawl, schools were built in the rural areas and many of the inner city facilities started their downhill slide. A veritable army of dedicated, hardworking teachers and staff have done everything in their power to provide the best possible education for their students over the years, but sadly, they can't win the battle without some fundamental changes. We've increased the spending per student to over three times what we spend in Southwest Missouri and the test scores continue to fall. Our Education Interim Committees have worked all year on some proposals to help the problem but I'm hoping our new committee addresses some of the underlying problems. The disintegration of the family unit certainly can't be solved overnight but it is, without a doubt, one of the main factors.
We are now back in session! Last Wednesday at noon we were sworn in and elected our leadership team for the next two years. John Diehl from Town and Country, a suburb of St. Louis, is our new Speaker and Todd Richardson from Cape Girardeau is our floor leader. Denny Hoskins from Warrenton is the speaker Pro Tem and Mike Cierpoit of Kansas City remained assistant floor leader. All of the leadership team is committed to doing the right thing for our state. The Speaker walked into my office at 7:05 A.M. on Thursday and wanted to visit about my committee assignments for the coming year and give me his thoughts about how to accomplish our goals. I've got a reputation for being in the Capitol early and to see the Speaker ready for business at 7:00 was a pleasant surprise to say the least. More than once Senator Richard has walked in for coffee before sunup also.