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General Assembly Approves Legislation Carried by Rep. Anne Zerr to Protect Missourians from Being Taxed for Internet Use
Productive 2016 Legislative Session Comes to an End
After more than four months of hard work, late nights and lengthy discussions, the Missouri House of Representatives concluded the 2016 legislative session with a long list of accomplishments. The session began with a focus on substantive ethics reform, and the legislature pushed several measures across the legislative finish line that will help to improve the culture at the State Capitol. The House and Senate also worked together to approve a fiscally responsible budget that makes a record investment in K-12 education, significantly boosts funding for Missouri’s colleges and universities, and provides new spending to help improve and repair the state’s transportation infrastructure.
House and Senate Complete Fiscal Year 2017 State Operating Budget
After long hours of discussion and compromise, the Missouri House and Senate came to a final agreement on the state operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins in July of this year. In its final form the budget checks in at $27.26 billion. Because the House had based its original budget on a more conservative revenue estimate than was used by the governor and the Senate, the House version also contained a surplus revenue fund to capture any additional revenues that would come in above the estimate. The compromise version of the budget does away with the surplus revenue fund and instead is based on a slightly higher revenue estimate than was originally used by the House. The end result is a fiscally responsible spending plan based on realistic revenue projections that makes wise use of taxpayer dollars.
Highlights of the Fiscal Year 2017 state operating budget as it now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed into law:
· $2.5 million for 2015’s Dairy Revitalization Act
· $4.55 million increase for business startups through the Missouri Technology Corporation
· $1 million to open five new trade offices to help promote international trade and Missouri agriculture
· $20 million to revive the state cost-share program to fund transportation projects
· $70.3 million increase for the Foundation Formula, which funds K-12 public schools
· $5 million increase for K-12 transportation
· $537,000 in additional funding for the Parents as Teachers Program to be dedicated to struggling school districts
· $37.2 million increase in performance funding for Missouri colleges and universities, which includes approximately $17.8 million in new funding for the University of Missouri System. The budget also includes a $3.8 million cut to the MU system’s administration.
· $750,000 to fund a commission to review the MU system’s administrative structure, campus structure, auxiliary enterprises structure, degree programs, research activities, and diversity programs.
· $3 million to assist the University of Missouri – Kansas City and Missouri Southern in a joint project to create a dental school in southwest Missouri
· $4 million increase for the Access Missouri need-based scholarship program.
· $2.5 million increase for the A+ Scholarship program
· $500,000 increase for the Bright Flight scholarship program
· Increase Medicaid provider rates by three percent
· $4.3 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program
· Two percent pay increase for state employees
· $500,000 for a pilot project to utilize current technology to allow for better monitoring of offenders on probation and parole
· $600,00 for the Missouri State Highway Patrol to hire and train 10 additional troopers
· $4.1 million to improve technology for local sheriff’s departments
Another Ethics Reform Bill Moves Closer to Becoming Law (HB 1979)
The House this week approved a compromise version of ethics reform legislation that was originally approved and sent to the Senate in January. The Senate passed its version of the bill in February, and the two chambers then sent the bill to conference in March where selected legislators have met to iron out the differences in each chamber’s version of the bill.
As passed by the House originally, the bill would require elected officials to have a one-year “cooling off” period after leaving office before they could become lobbyists. The sponsor of the bill called it an effort to “remove the distractions, remove the barriers to good governance.” The Senate then took the bill and removed the waiting period and instead said lawmakers can’t leave service early to become a lobbyist.
The compromise version of the bill requires members to wait six months after their term expires before becoming a lobbyist. The sponsor of the bill said the compromise was necessary to ensure the legislation would receive the approval of the full Senate. The compromise now heads back to the Senate for one final vote before moving to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The Missouri House had voted in bipartisan fashion on Wednesday, March 16 to override the governor’s withholds of $575,000 for the Missouri Scholars Academy and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy, and $350,000 for the Brain Injury Waiver Fund. While the Senate has yet to complete the overrides, the constitutional authority given to the General Assembly by voters passing Amendment 10 to the Missouri Constitution in 2014 was instrumental in the Legislature’s ability to override a budget veto.
The governor also released $250,000 in funding for the foster kids health home, $400,000 for asthma services, $300,000 for naturally occurring retirement communities, and $250,000 for the Sullivan County Lake project.
Promoting Ethanol Production in Missouri (HB 1413)
The House advanced legislation this week that would extend the state’s ethanol producer incentive fund. The incentive, which is meant to promote increased ethanol production and use in Missouri expired on Dec. 31 of last year. The bill approved by the House would renew the incentive and extend it until Dec. 31 of 2020.
Supporters of the legislation point to the positive impact that ethanol production has on the agriculture industry and the state’s economy. The state has six majority farmer-owned ethanol plants in operation in Missouri and each year the plants use slightly more than 30 percent of the state’s corn crop to produce approximately 300 million gallons of ethanol and 825,000 tons of distillers grains. Supporters note that ethanol is 100 percent renewable and plays an important role in reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
The legislation is now under consideration in the Senate.
First Ethics Reform Measure Advances to Governor’s Desk (HB 1983)
Members of the General Assembly sent legislation to the governor’s desk last week that would help improve the culture at the State Capitol. The legislation that has now received final approval from both the House and Senate would prohibit statewide elected officials and members of the General Assembly from receiving compensation as paid political consultants.
The bill, which received bipartisan support in the House and unanimous approval in the Senate, would ensure that elected officials do not receive pay for campaign strategy or fundraising work while in office. As the sponsor of the legislation told his colleagues, some elected officials have used their positions to gain personal wealth, and the bill is meant to prevent this type of conflict of interest.
The bill now awaits the signature of the governor, who has said he supports strengthening the state’s ethics laws.