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Spin Doctoring on Taxes

May 18, 1996
By: Joseph Morton
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Before Missouri lawmakers left the Capitol Friday, they stopped to take time for an annual ritual - post-session spin doctoring.

With legislators casting an eye to the upcoming elections, there was no shortage of rhetoric from either party.

"We have made major progress in securing the quality of life Missourians want and deserve," said Gov. Mel Carnahan. "I'm disappointed we didn't get a tax cut, but we can't let that overshadow the many other things we did this session."

Meanwhile, Republicans like House Minority Floor Leader Mark Richardson seem to be focused on keeping the tax cut's demise central to state political debate.

"There will be no relief for the taxpayers this year," Richardson said. "Taxman Carnahan will only be returning the money he has taken illegally for three years."

Democratic leaders were unified in downplaying the significance of the legislature's failure to pass a tax cut.

"It's not like we'll be keeping this money somewhere," said Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia. "It's going back to the taxpayers."

Besides the tax cut issue, Republicans gave further foreshadowing of their campaign strategy by decrying what they say is the outright theft of their ideas.

Richardson said many of the Democrats' biggest issues this year have long been Republican favorites.

"Republicans have been promoting safe schools legislation for years," he said. "It's unfortunate we had to wait until an election year to see it pass."

On the other side of the political coin, the Democrats patted themselves on the back, holding up the state budget and the nearly 200 bills passed by the legislature year.

"We didn't get everything done. but that is far outweighed by what we did get done," said House Majority Floor Leader Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield.

Here are the highlights of what they did finish before the clock struck 6 p.m. on Friday:

* A speed limit bill that changes highway speed limits. Rural interstates are set at 70 mph the Highway Department is allowed to raise or lower the limits according to safety concerns under the bill.

Much of the early portions of the session were consumed by working out these limits. The speed limit battle grew bogged down in the Senate, where Harold Caskey, D-Butler, managed to demand concessions through a short filibuster.

He was able to force removal of a provision in the bill that would have allowed county governments to regulate speed limits on state highways. He said the section would have lead to an increase in speed traps.

* A $13.7 billion budget for the state. The budget negotiations were a constant drama underneath the daily flow of legislation moving through the Capitol. Using the governor's proposal as a starting point, lawmakers on both sides of the statehouse approved their own plans for spending the state's cash.

Then representatives from each chamber spent countless nights in hearing room after hearing room hammering out an agreement on the budget, which was passed with hours to spare. Fueled by a strong economy, the budget featured healthy increases for both lower and higher education.

* Safe schools legislation. One of the governor's top priorities for this year's session, the bills came through on the session's last day with many of his original goals.

The legislation creates a felony offense for knowingly assaulting someone on school grounds. It also mandates communication between juvenile authorities and schools, as well as requiring statewide honoring of expulsions. A $10 million grant program for alternative education, designed to remove disruptive and violent students from classrooms, also received legislative approval.

* An abortion bill. After much hue and cry the significantly watered-down version of Rep. Patrick O'Connor's abortion bill made it through both chambers. The bill requires mandatory annual inspections of abortion clinics and a minimum of $500,000 in malpractice insurance for doctors performing abortions.

A licensing requirement for abortion clinics included in the original bill was replaced by the inspection provision. Carnahan said he has yet to decide whether he will sign the bill.

* A ban on same-sex marriages performed in other states. Predictions from House Speaker Steve Gaw that there wouldn't be enough time to deal with this "frivolous" issue proved false Friday.

A preemptive strike to ban the marriages, which some fear could be forced on Missouri if they were performed in other states, was attached to a minor bill and quickly moved through both chambers. The governor said he will most likely sign the bill.

There were, however, several issues that had gotten a lot of legislative attention during the session, but failed to get legislative approval:

* Reductions in the state income and sale taxes.

* Restrictions on lobbyists giving lawmakers food, drink and gifts.

* Allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons.

* Making English the official state language.