Gov. Jay Nixon delivered his State of the State address Jan. 20 to a joint session of the Missouri legislature.
Speaking to a full House chamber, Nixon brought in Missourians for visual assistance to promote an array of policy proposals: a CEO who moved his company from San Diego due to Missouri's lower taxes and the Ray family from St. Louis to promote a higher education tuition freeze. Nixon said these initiatives would require bi-partisan support, because Republicans control both houses of the Missouri legislature.
The governor also spoke of budget restrictions and job cuts that would need to be made due to the state's current negative economic climate.
"Our most pressing economic challenges... are too important to be sidetracked by partisan bickering," Nixon said.
House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said that last year's budget negotiations were dominated by Nixon's administration.
"If we had bipartisanship, it would make my life much easier," Icet said. "I would not characterize what happened last year as bipartisanship.
In his address, Nixon also announced two new programs: Show-Me Heroes, a job initiative for veterans and the State Parks Youth Corps., a program designed to put Missouri youths to work at state parks and historical societies.
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Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said the governor will raise taxes on some Missourians and has cut funding to some departments while increasing funding to his own.
Kinder, who gave the Republican response to Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address, said Nixon:
* Held onto the tax refunds of Missourians last year to cover a budget shortfall
* Participated in the raising of taxes by allowing the tax commission to raise taxes on farmers by 29 percent
* Spent over 80 percent of federal stimulus money
* Employed the largest and highest paid staff in Missouri history
* Refused to comment on federal health care legislation
Following an address in which Nixon called for ethics reform, Kinder said "lawmakers have credibly charged Gov. Nixon's staff with offering them jobs for their votes."
Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea said that the 80 percent of stimulus money spent was based on the amount the state has currently received. The number did not include federal money Missouri is expected to receive this year.
Nixon's office refused comment.
While Gov. Jay Nixon called job growth his top priority during the State of the State address, his budget recommendation - released an hour before the address - would cut 544 state jobs.
With more than 1,000 jobs designated to be cut in the current fiscal year, the additional cuts would eliminate almost 1,800 positions during Nixon's first two years.
State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the reductions do not mean the state's payroll is bloated.
"This is more about demanding more from the people left behind," Luebbering said.
Nixon's proposed budget calls for $253 million in cuts, $121 million of which would come from Medicaid.
The Medicaid cuts would come from examining current services and reducing provider rates, and would not eliminate current services or eligibility, Luebbering said.
The governor's proposed budget also calls for an increase of $18 million into Missouri's K-12 Education Foundation Formula. Even with the increase, the formula will not be fully funded in fiscal year 2011, Luebbering said.
The budget proposal also assumes $300 million in additional federal matching funds for Medicaid. Former Senate Appropriations Chair Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, warned that passage of those funds by the U.S. Congress is not guaranteed.
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An agricultural tax hike proposed by the Missouri State Tax Commission took on statewide political ramifications after it was mentioned by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder in his Republican response to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address.
The measure had gained only minor attention until Kinder said the tax was an example of Nixon raising taxes on Missourians.
Even though the Tax Commission is independent of the governor's office, Kinder's staff said two of the commission's three members are Democrats and could have been lobbied by Nixon.
The commissions new taxation estimates were approved in December and would raise taxes on some farmers by 29 percent. Recommendations on the estimates came from the University of Missouri's Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute.
The proposed tax increase was rejected by the Senate Rules Committee, however, to officially reject the increase both the House and Senate must pass identical resolutions within 60 days of the session starting.
Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, said a rejection of the increase was "as close to a no-brainer as you can get."
If no action is taken, the increase will become effective Jan. 1, 2011.
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A primary facet of Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed plan to bring new jobs to Missouri would increase tax credits available to businesses.
"It's clear that our key business incentives and workforce investments are bearing fruit," Nixon said in his address. "But much more needs to be done."
Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, said that tax credits have not experienced the success the governor claims.
"Every governor comes into office and proposes tax credits, and that's why the state of Missouri is having a revenue crisis right now," Bartle said. "We are narrowing our tax base."
Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, also expressed reservations about the governor's plan. He said efforts to attract companies from out of state could jeopardize the success of Missouri businesses.
"Sometimes we don't worry about how we can assist businesses that have been here," Green said.
Dick Fleming, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, said he strongly supported Nixon's proposed plan.
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A two minute power outage on Jan. 20 left the entire Capitol dark, including the House chambers where Gov. Jay Nixon was to deliver his State of the State address a little more than an hour later.
AmerenUE spokesman Mike Cleary said the blackout was caused by a malfunction which occurred during maintenance work by the utility company.
Cleary also said that the power outage also affected the governor's mansion as well as other Jefferson City businesses.
The newly created Special Standing Committee on Government Accountability and Ethics Reform heard testimony Jan. 20 on two proposed ethics bills.
House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, spoke on behalf of his proposed bill that would limit campaign contributions.
"I believe that the fact that we don't have limits raises too many questions," LeVota said.
House Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, argued that the state's current system which does not limit the amount that can be given to a candidate leads to greater transparency. Instead, Tilley is proposing a bill that would ban gifts from lobbyists.
"I believe lobbyists meals and lobbyists gifts are more of a personal benefit," Tilley said. "If I wanted to take my wife and my two kids to a game and go out to dinner I could have a lobbyists pay for it, that's a personal benefit."
Tilley also equated limiting the amount of money a person could give to limiting the amount of time a person could volunteer for a candidate.
"Some people have unlimited time and they believe in a candidate so they're like, you know what, I'm going to knock on doors for this person six days-a-week," Tilley said. "Some people don't have the time, but they have the resources, and they say, I believe in this candidate so I'm going to invest my resources in them."
Rep. James Morris, D-St. Louis City, said he disagreed with Tilley's example. While he might not know if someone worked a large amount of hours for his campaign, Morris said he would certainly be aware if someone made a large donation.
Missouri legislators were warned of an impending "tsunami" as members of both chambers heard testimony on bills mandating insurance coverage for autism.
Proponents of the bills - heard by House and Senate committees on Jan 19 - highlighted an increase in autism diagnosis nationally with the help of active screening programs.
Representatives of insurance companies said that requiring their companies to cover treatments for autism would push premiums higher, especially for small businesses.
Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said action on the Senate version of the bill could take place as soon as the week of Jan 25.
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A bond issue that failed during the 2009 legislative session has been revived for the 2010 legislative session by Sen. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.
The bond issue, which would raise almost $750 million for higher education, has wide bipartisan support in the House, and similar to last year an uncertain future in the Senate.
The state Higher Education Planning Board was asked to provide a list of high priority projects to be put into the bill. Over 50 co-sponsors have signed onto the bond issue in the House, including Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville.
Last year, the bill passed the House by a wide margin but was stalled in the Senate due to a filibuster by Sens. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, and Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.
Crowell said he needed to see the costs or debt structure of the bond proposal before he could support the measure.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he would once again represent the bill in the Senate, but added that he expects a challenge.
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Calling government spending in Washington out of control and dangerous, two Missouri lawmakers have filed a bipartisan resolution asking Congress to balance the federal budget.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, - one of the motion's sponsors - said balancing the budget is an issue that goes beyond party politics.
"President George Bush drove up the budget ceiling and President (Barack) Obama is not dealing efficiently with the deficit," Kelly said.
Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, - the motion's other sponsor - said support for the motion should be unanimous in Missouri's General Assembly.
"Rep. Kelly and I both know there are implications to the state when the federal government spends like drunken sailors," Icet said.
The Missouri House passed a similar resolution in 1983. The resolution would not have the force of law, but would send the opinion of the General Assembly to Congress.
Other states have passed or are working on similar resolutions, Kelly said.
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The Missouri House of Representatives voted Jan. 19 to oppose federal health care legislation. The resolution is an expression of opinion and will not become state law.
Republican members of the House specifically mentioned a provision in proposed federal legislation that would exempt the state of Nebraska from having to pay for expanded Medicaid coverage.
"I don't believe those debates (in Washington) were done in a transparent process," said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.
The Nebraska provision was added to appease U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, R-Nebraska, who was believed to be the 60 vote in favor of the health care legislation. Nelson has since asked for the provision to be removed.
Some Missouri representatives, however, questioned why the legislature was considering measures that would not have the force of law.
"Our citizens did not vote for us to come here to debate things that are out of our control," said Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County.
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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting that MOSERS, the state's employee pension board, will not be receiving bonuses.
According to the Post-Dispatch, MOSERS executive director Gary Findlay said that anything in the current economic climate deemed a bonus is "poison."
Last year MOSERS was criticized for providing bonuses to staff members even though the fund lost close to $1.8 billion dollars. Money lost by the fund was made by with taxpayers funds through the state's general revenue fund.
The MOSERS board, according to the Post-Dispatch, voted 8-1 in favor of eliminating the bonuses.
Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, - a physician since 1985 - is co-sponsoring a bill to make Missouri the 15th state to legalize medical marijuana.
"We owe it to our terminally ill patients to provide the most effective treatment," Schaaf said.
Those opposing the measure are concerned that legalizing medical marijuana will make policing the drug more difficult.
Schaaf, however, stressed the bill would not legalize marijuana overall.
"Most people don't understand the issue," Schaaf said.
The Missouri Department of Public Safety and Attorney General Chris Koster could not be reached for comment.
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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported January 18 that the staff of Missouri's Public Service Commission are questioning AmerenUE's Pure Power green pricing program.
Nearly 6,000 AmerenUE customers voluntarily pay more on their monthly energy bill to support the renewable energy program.
Pure Power gives $14 for every $15 it receives to 3Degrees Inc., a San Francisco-based administrator. The Post-Dispatch reports, however that less than half of the money goes to buy renewable energy certificates. The rest of the money is used for marketing, administrative expenses, and profit for 3Degrees Inc., according the the Post-Dispatch.
The Commission wants AmerenUE to detail the costs on the program's Web site. AmerenUE and 3Degrees fixed similar issues in 2008 after the Commission's staff called for an end to the program.