JEFFERSON CITY - (Jan. 7) Missouri's two top legislative leaders drew on the past to plan for the the state's future Wednesday, both emphasizing tax relief, education and health care in their speeches on the first day of the 1998 session.
House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, reminisced about his 85-year-old grandfather's life. He said that while technology has changed the world, parents' dreams for their children haven't changed. Gaw brought the House to order by banging the opening day gavel for the second time as speaker, jokingly asking members who had a problem working the new electronic voting system on their desks to raise their hands.
Across the capitol, his Senate counterpart, Sen. President Pro Tem Bill McKenna, D-Jefferson County, banged his last opening day gavel. Objecting to being called a "victim" of term limits because he will be the first legislator affected by the new law, McKenna fired a shot at term limit supporters.
"In my opinion, the citizens of this state will really be the first victims of term limits," McKenna said. "They'll be the ones denied experienced representation in their General Assembly."
Tax relief was a key component in both men's speeches, and they echoed each other by praising Missouri's strong economy and low taxes. Determining how the state will reduce taxes will continue to be a high-profile issue in the capitol.
Gaw said Missouri ranks 49th in the nation on tax burden as a percent of personal income.
Rep. Don Lograsso, R-Blue Springs, the number two Republican in the House, criticized the Democrats' tax cut approach.
"They want to take from average middle-class taxpayers and give to special groups," Lograsso said. He called Gaw's figures "stale" and said they were at least eight years old. Lograsso said Missouri ranks 27th.
Lograsso said he expects the tax reduction issue to be the most contentious for the election-year session. A switch of five Democratic seats in the November election could swing the House to the Republicans' control.
Lograsso said the relationship between the two parties will depend on the Democratic caucus.
"If they continue to behave in a manner that makes it look like there are only 12 Republicans in the House, we'll have problems," he said. "If they treat us as partners, things will be smoother, even though we may disagree philosophically."
Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia, praised Gaw's speech and said she hopes the atmosphere is one in which "everyone will work together." She said two of her legislative priorities, education and accessible and affordable health care, matched the speaker's.
Although she still finds sitting in the House chamber "awe-inspiring," Wilson noted one change from her first day as a legislator a year ago.
"I can find my way around the halls pretty easily now," she said jokingly.