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Budget cutters and social conservatives get their day

May 16, 2003
By: Valerie C. Green
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Both fiscal and social conservatives counted their victories Friday as the General Assembly wrapped up the five-month session. Members in both factions of the Republican party felt that their agendas were successful in the first year the party has been in the majority of both chambers in half a century.

"The taxpayers of Missouri have won this session," said Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton and chair of the House Tax Policy Committee. "We passed a balanced budget without tax increases and passed several social issues that will improve their quality of life."

Traditionally, a fiscal conservative would be one who wants to see government budgets cut as much as possible and social conservatives want government to have as little influence in citizen's lives as possible.

Back in January, House Speaker Catherine Hanaway predicted one of the biggest challenges she would face in her post would be to keep the two factions of her party together.

"I am very happy with the progress the House has made this session," said Hanaway, a St. Louis County Republican. "We have dealt with both fiscal and social issues that are priorities for a variety of members."

The fiscal conservatives seem to have gotten their way with a state budget that was cut more than $700 million from last year's appropriations to keep it in balance.

"We are changing the way we budget around here by doing more performance reviews of programs to see which ones deserve more money and which ones don't," said Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County.

Next to the budget the major concern of this session, according to fiscal conservatives, was job creation. Hanaway continuously pointed to a statistic that Missouri has lost nearly 100,000 jobs in the last year, one of the worst job-loss rates in the country.

"Job creation is our top priority," Hanaway has said. "The root of the budget crisis is a decline in revenue. If we don't address that problem, we will never turn this ship around."

Several measures including a cap on lawsuit awards for victims of malpractice and a tax credit to keep the Ford plant in Hazelwood were pushed through the legislature this year intended to address the issue.

"The only way to resolve the budget issue is to grow the economy," said Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. "We need to fix the job situation. If corporations make money, they want to stay in the state and will pay more taxes to the state."

One of the top Republican priorities of the year was left undone when the gavel fell Friday afternoon. Although it seemed like lawmakers were closing in on a compromise on the state's workers' compensation law, the bill died.

"It's very disappointing that this didn't get done this year, but we'll come back and try again next year," Pratt said.

Social issues also got their fair share of attention this year. Measures requiring a day wait for women who want an abortion, tightening restrictions on nursing homes and allowing Missourians to carry concealed weapons all passed the legislature by wide margins.

"The budget cutters might be having their day this year, but the social conservatives have an equal passion for their issues too," said Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County. "The abortion and gun law changes are litmus tests. We don't pass good laws like this every year."

Most Republicans felt the party stuck together dispite their priority differences and were happy with the results of the session. At the end of the day Friday, the Republican leadership claimed victory.

"This is the most productive session of recent years," Hanaway said after the session ended. "We tried to give make it possible for everyone who wants a job to have one and for everyone who can't have a job to still be taken care of."