Friday, February 22, 2013

Bonding for Higher Education Vlog

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Winter Storm "Q"


It is not often we write on the actual inner workings of the legislature – we often talk about the ideas and policies being proposed, debated, passed or defeated.  But this week, leadership of the House and the Senate faced extraordinary circumstances.  Though we had planned for a routine week – amending bills on Tuesday and Wednesday and then passing the final versions on Thursday – Mother Nature had other things in mind. 

 

Early on Tuesday we started hearing about the impending Winter Storm “Q”.  As time progressed, it became clear that “Q” was not going to be a light dusting of snow.  The Capitol and most of Missouri was likely to see a range of wintery conditions from freezing rain to snow.  It was clear that a decision on whether or not to ask legislators and staff to remain at the Capitol through the rest of the week had to be made. 

 

I wrote to you last week about public safety being the chief concern of government.  With this in mind, we decided that we could not guarantee the safety of the hundreds of legislators who drive in from across the entire state and the staff who support us here in Jefferson City should we continue with our planned business.  We adjourned on Wednesday for the remainder of the week and asked legislators to be mindful of the storm as they planned their weekends.  We also granted an internal holiday for staff on Thursday so they could stay at home with their families as schools would likely be closed and roads in nearby cities would be dangerous to travel. 

 

As I woke early on Thursday I was reassured we made the right decision.  Kansas City alone saw record levels of snow.  Some parts of Missouri were spared, but I-70 was at a standstill during parts of the day and I have heard accounts of the many abandoned cars dotting Highways 63, 54, and 50 (three main arteries to Jefferson City used by our staff and members).  The legislature’s business is important, but not so important that we risk the safety of the hundreds who come to work and serve at your State Capitol. 

Protecting our Fundamental Rights


The Second Amendment to the United State Constitution states:

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

 

You have probably heard a lot of talk in the past few months, especially this past week, about all the different tactics being proposed by Democrats in D.C., and now Missouri, that not only violate, but actually eradicate, our second amendment rights.

 

One of the most appalling attacks, HB 545, came late last week from Rep. Rory Ellinger (D-86). House Bill 545 is one of the most preposterous anti-gun bills filed this year as it would turn many law-abiding gun owners into felons. This infringement would ban the possession, sale, transfer or manufacturing of certain semi-automatic rifles and magazines that are capable of holding more than ten rounds. It contains no grandfather clause, which means if you are currently in possession of the semi-automatic rifles and magazines outlined in this bill, you will have 90 days from the effective date of this legislation to surrender, destroy or remove these currently lawful items from Missouri. If you fail to do so, you could be charged with a Class C felony.

 

Here in Missouri, the Republican led legislature is dedicated to upholding and protecting the fundamental rights of our citizens as outlined in the Constitution. Legislation that is clearly an infringement on our Constitution deserves nothing but a swift and public execution.

 

One piece of legislation being proposed in the House to protect the rights of Missourians is HB 170 called the "Firearm Protection Act", sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey (R-2). This legislation is designed to shield our citizens from President Obama's gun control mandates, executive orders and proposed legislation that would limit our fundamental Second Amendment rights. The Firearm Protection Act specifies that no official shall enforce a federal firearm law when the firearm is manufactured and remains in the state and that any new federal law banning or restricting ownership of a semi-automatic firearm is unenforceable. In addition the legislation would make any attempt to curb a Missourian’s Second Amendment rights a class D felony and directs the Attorney General of the State of Missouri to defend Missouri citizen's rights to keep and bear arms.

 

Missouri legislators believe it is their fundamental responsibility to defend and protect Missourians’ basic constitutional rights framed in both the US and Missouri Constitutions.

House Advances Tax Amnesty Program


The Missouri House voted to send the Senate a new revenue policy being championed by budget hawk Representative Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage).  Rep. Flanigan initially proposed the idea of tax amnesty in the 2011 legislative session as a way to help increase revenues without raising taxes.  I think it is an intelligent idea and it will help us fund many critical services. 

 

How does it work?

 

Upon its passage and the Governor’s signature, the Department of Revenue will begin working to advertise and implement the necessary program requirements to offer the general public an amnesty opportunity.  That is, if you owe back taxes, you can make arrangements with the Department to pay them with all interest and penalties will be waived. 

 

What if the taxpayer fails to pay?

 

Rep. Flanigan and the rest of the Republican-led legislature understand that some folks want to make right on their tax bills.  But we also know that we can’t provide amnesty without expecting taxpayers to continue to pay their taxes just like their neighbors, you, and I.  We added some safeguards to encourage those who have a debt to pay it, but also to ensure they don’t fall back into the red later down the road.  In fact, if in any of the eight years after a taxpayer participates in the amnesty program they fall behind again, all prior interest and penalties will be reapplied.  Additionally, language was added that will ensure that a taxpayer who receives amnesty on a certain tax will not be able to participate in any future amnesty programs for that same tax.  We think this is a good way to encourage positive changes, be considerate of those burdened by tough times from the recession, and bring folks up to par and paying their fair share like their neighbors. 

 

How much will the state generate?

 

Estimates have ranged from $55 million to more than $70 million in additional revenues that the state will receive if it offers the amnesty program.  Those funds will help balance the budget without a tax increase – a promise you’ve asked for, we’ve made, and we continue to keep.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bonding Issue, Continued...

Recently, I wrote to you about a bond proposal that will help the state repair its infrastructure.  Whether transportation, higher-education, or state facility related, our infrastructure provides the necessary framework for a stable, prosperous economy.  The condition of our infrastructure demands action – today.  In response, I have proposed a bipartisan solution: House Joint Resolution 14.  This Resolution, labeled “Funding for Higher Education, Improvements, Construction, and Transportation Infrastructure”, will provide the funding necessary to accomplish the task we have at hand.

Because of the magnitude of this undertaking, I formed the Appropriations Committee on Infrastructure and Job Creation chaired by Representative Chris Kelly; a strong advocate for bonding and a senior member of the democrat party in the House of Representatives.  In short, the responsibility of the 17 member committee will be oversight of all use of funding generated through the bond issue. 

Benefits

This investment in our state will contribute to more advanced education in our higher learning centers around the state.  It is imperative we are able to educate our students to meet the technological demands placed upon them now, and in the future.  An educated workforce attracts investment in our state and spurs economic growth.  As the economy in Missouri improves, revenue to the state increases.  This means more funds will be available to fund other critical state service, which keeps taxes low.  

As the Third State Building Bond did in the years following its approval, voter approval for the Fifth State Building Fund will provide the necessary funding for our infrastructure needs, help to insure an educated workforce, and spur economic growth and opportunity in Missouri.  The 1982 bond issuance was responsible for creating an estimated 40,000 plus jobs.  This is clearly a win-win situation.

Whether the bond issuance directly pays for repairs to our transportation infrastructure or frees up state funds for the repairs, we desperately need to make the necessary repairs and improvements to our highways and bridges.  It is estimated the average driver will pay around $540 in auto repairs every year due to poor conditions of our roads and bridges.  Interstate 70 is a prime example of our infrastructure needs.  Designed to support 18,000 vehicles per day, the least travelled sections now experience 31,000 vehicles daily; nearly twice the number it was designed to carry.  These numbers will continue to increase as our population continues to grow.  A clogged highway system - in desperate need of repair - creates unsafe driving conditions for you and your family. 

Poor transportation infrastructure also negatively impacts trade.  Nationally, we stand to lose $72 billion annually in foreign trade alone due to these deficiencies.  The economic impact is staggering to think about.  We must take the initiative now to right this ship and prepare our transportation infrastructure to accept the demands being placed upon it now, and for the foreseeable future.  We cannot, in good conscience, continue to deny funding for the critical repairs and improvements to our roads and bridges. 

This is the right thing to do for your safety, the safety of your family, and makes good economic sense.  This bond issue is a clear example of how responsible borrowing to fund capital improvements can truly better a society – we will not adopt the “Washington Model” of “over-borrow to force tax increases.”  We will live within our means and we will balance the budget.  Always.  
 
For a complete description of my HJR 14 and the Joint Committee on Capital Improvements and Leases Oversight, please visit www.house.mo.gov.

Protecting Public Safety While Honoring Public Interest

This week the House of Representatives considered and moved forward HB 256 sponsored by Representative Caleb Jones (R-50).  One of the chief concerns the legislature has is public safety.  In fact, it is the government’s primary responsibility to facilitate the sanctity of its citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  With this in mind, the House extended the law which protects certain government plans from the public domain so long as they relate to public safety.  Specifically, disaster response plans that are developed in the event of terrorist activities and utilized by law enforcement agencies, public health and public safety officials will not be accessible.  Many had concerns that school disaster response plans would be publicly available, meaning that those wishing our children harm might also have access to how first responders, police, and other safety officials would handle a crisis – allowing the criminal more time to do harm or plan escape.
 
Let me be clear, I strongly support the public’s interest in accountability in government.  In an effort to ensure that government officials could not tamper with the intent of the law in order to hide activities or purchases that would erode the public’s trust, I also supported amendments that clarified that certain purchases and activities can explicitly be obtained through information requests from the public.  This issue is quite complex, and the line between public safety and public information is sometimes a hard one to define.  I feel confident that we have acted in the best interest of Missouri’s citizens.

Protecting the Vote


Our founding fathers envisioned a government that worked for the people, not against them.  Needless to say, they would probably not be too satisfied with the mess that is the Washington, D.C. of today.  As the Washington insiders and career politicians continue to lose touch with what the people really desire and deserve from their government; I like to think that closer to home here in Jefferson City, we are keeping the founding fathers’ vision alive. Just this week, the Missouri House passed a key measure that ensures that our state government is a service to the people of this great state.

On Thursday, February 14 the House Third Read and Passed HCS HB 48 & 216 and HCS HJRs 5 & 12, sponsored by Rep. Tony Dugger (R-Hartsville). This legislation requires a person to submit a specified form of photo identification in order to vote in a public election. HCS HJRs 5 & 12 creates a Voter ID ballot measure for approval of the people and HCS HBs 48 & 216 is the statutory laws that would govern Voter ID should the ballot measure prevail.

The goal of these proposals is to protect the sanctity and integrity of the election process, not to restrict anyone from voting.   Acceptable forms of identification under these measures include: non-expired Missouri driver’s or non-driver’s license; a document issued by the federal or state government that contains the individual’s name, signature, photograph and expiration date; or a photo ID issued by the National Guard, US Armed Forces or US Department of Veterans Affairs. There are also provisions in the statutes that would help Missourians who might not have or be able to afford an ID obtain a proper form of identification.  Even still, a voter can cast a provisional ballot should they not have the required identification – allowing everyone to partake in the democratic process while safeguarding against voter fraud.

Voter ID Vlog

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Up From the Ashes


On the rather ordinary Sunday evening of February 5, 1911, the dome of the Missouri Capitol was struck by lightning a third and final time. The capitol had survived direct hits in 1901 and 1904 but it was the last strike in 1911 that proved to be more than the people’s capitol could withstand. Accounts from that evening describe in horror the frantic and chaotic actions of the citizens as they tried to contain the blaze. Even then-Governor Hadley, in one last desperate attempt, took up a hose but fought in vain as fire consumed the building.

One newspaper account described the scene as such:

“When the last bit of woodwork had fallen from the dome, leaving the barren steel framework blood-red with heat, the blaze scurried along the great roof. The flame divided, one fork worked to the north while the other ignited the top of the south wing…”

After all was over and the fire but smoldering embers, the capitol was left an ashen husk standing on the horizon. Yet out of the destruction, the citizens of Missouri rebuilt this cathedral of democracy. It was built to withstand the forces of nature and be an anchor for which all Missourians could moor their right of self-government.

So on this 102nd anniversary of the burning of the Missouri’s state capitol, we must remember that our ideals are not found in the buildings we erect but in the hearts of the people. We can always rebuild a fallen and destroyed structure, but it is far more difficult to rebuild a free society when the ideals that have guided us through history are ravaged by forces greater than mere lightning that may erupt across the sky. Our resolve is strengthened and made anew by the fires of passion and through an embrace of the notion that the welfare of the people is the supreme law of the land.

Better Solutions


One of the hottest topics so far this session has been and will continue to be Healthcare Reform. I think the voters made their message loud and clear during the last election that they do not want any new taxes and they do not support drastically expanding the already broken program that is Medicaid. The Governor has promised not to raise any of Missouri’s taxes, yet concedes that the state will be liable for hundreds of millions in new spending through his Medicaid expansion. He has not offered a plan of how to pay for the expansion so we are left to conclude he plans to take money from places like corrections, mental health or education (his target last year). Medicaid was designed to help the neediest, such as children and those with special needs. It should not be diluted.

We will not ignore the needs of our less-fortunate citizens and will be working diligently to offer and pass the best solutions for Missouri. One such plan to assist Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens was passed in the House this week with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. House Bill 87 sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield) re-establishes or extends the sunset date on many Benevolent Tax Credits to December 31, 2019. The tax credits impacted by this legislation include the income tax credit for the surviving spouse of a public safety officer who has not remarried, the children in crisis tax credit, the disability access residential renovations tax credit, the pregnancy resource center tax credit, and the income tax credit for a donation to a food pantry.

These tax credits encourage investments, from private citizens, in programs that benefit many of our most needy citizens. HB 87 will help many of our charitable organizations gather resources to provide much needed assistance to low-income families. These benevolent tax credits are a fiscally responsible way of assisting Missourians who are in need.

Times are tough in Missouri and all across our Nation. However, encouraging private citizens to support the many charitable organizations who are providing much needed resources to pregnant women and hungry children is good public policy.  It is not just the smart thing to do; it is the right thing to do.

Governor’s Proposal Just Makes Things Worse

I glanced at the U.S. Debt Clock on Tuesday afternoon.  If each taxpayer in the country had to make a one-time payment to collectively pay off the federal debt, that amount would be $146,080.  So here is my question: “Do you have over a hundred thousand dollars you and your family do not need?”  Odds are you do not.  Democrats like to contribute our fiscal problems to a “lack” of revenue.  They tell you that they can solve so many problems if only they had more of your money with which to spend.  They then sell you the idea that Republicans are evil because we oppose mortgaging a collective generation of children’s – even grandchildren’s – futures for the sake of poorly run programs that do not even come close to solving the problems they were intended to solve.  One such program is Medicaid.
 
Old, Broken Medicaid

Have you ever heard anyone say that Medicaid is a good insurance program?  I have not and I am willing to bet you have not either.  Medicaid is such a terribly run inefficient program that one-third of doctors nationwide will not even take on new Medicaid patients.  Studies also show that Medicaid recipients have worse health outcomes than those who have private insurance.  There is even evidence that shows that on par, a Medicaid recipient is actually more likely to go visit the emergency room than someone who is uninsured.  This is the exact opposite of the intended effect the program is supposed to have!  Specialty care, which is expensive and often crucial to treating our medically underserved, is limited by Medicaid’s burdensome federal regulations and requirements.  When it comes to access and outcomes, Medicaid is failing.

This underlying truth is undeniable and uncontested.  Yet this is the program that Governor Nixon wants to saddle on to more than 250,000 additional Missourians.  According to the 2011 American Community Survey, 86.3% of Missouri’s citizens have some form of insurance.  With this expansion, we only improve the coverage to 90% - a mere 4% increase in coverage (assuming no one drops their private insurance for “free” healthcare) for a staggering cost to taxpayers of one billion dollars!  Common sense could not be more in our favor to reform this system to improve its operation, help people get well, and save taxpayer dollars. 

Unfortunately, this is not the plan Governor Nixon is endorsing.  Consider this: in the last four years as Governor, he has had the opportunity to try and change Medicaid so it actually helps people get well.  Instead, he has waited until his re-election before he jumped on the expansion bandwagon.  Thankfully, there are alternatives to the ill-conceived idea of growing this broken system.

Transformed Medicaid

Republicans and Democrats alike in places like Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin have taken notice of Medicaid’s vast shortcomings.  Instead of just throwing more money at the problem, these states have offered realistic solutions.  With a pragmatic approach, they have instituted reforms that have promoted stronger patient outcomes, increased doctor participation, and reduced burdensome restrictions on care that can be given.  We can bring those solutions to Missouri and that is what we will be working towards this session.

Samaritan Center Vlog, 2/11/13

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Friday, February 1, 2013

State of the State Response Vlog

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The Right Thing To Do

Governor Nixon delivered his annual State of the State address this week, highlighting his newfound liberal stance on entitlement programs – specifically Medicaid.  He is advocating for a billion dollar increase in the Missouri budget to expand a broken program that is already filled with waste, fraud and abuse.  Auditor Schweich’s recently released audit proves the fact that welfare programs remain rife with improper spending and abuse.  Those are facts.  The Governor’s talking points, which certain liberal editorial boards have parroted across the state, are supposedly: 1) “It’s the right thing to do.” and 2) “It’s the smart thing to do.”  This is the depth of his argument.  For $1 billion of your hard earned tax dollars, I expect more details and you should, too.

I oppose the expansion of this entitlement and here’s why:

A.     The Missouri electorate has consistently reminded its government officials that they will not accept tax increases, do not favor ObamaCare, nor have they supported those who have promoted either.

i.       President Obama lost Missouri in both of his elections

ii.      Governor Nixon campaigned on no new taxes and never mentioned his support of ObamaCare in his re-election bid

iii.     Proposition C in 2010 overwhelmingly rejected ObamaCare to the tune of 70% of the vote

iv.     Proposition B in 2012 (less than 12 weeks ago) proposed a tax increase on cigarettes to support education programming – it failed 

B.     None of the politicians or advocates of the expansion have addressed how to pay for the expansion once Missouri’s share kicks in – an amount that will cost you and I hundreds of millions of dollars.  Next to spending on social programs, which comprises almost one-third of Missouri’s current $24 billion budget, education is our largest expenditure.  Our kids – our future job creators, employers, researchers – will see less funding per capita in the classroom if this short-sighted expansion moves forward. 

C.     An economic analysis of the impact of Medicaid expansion was released late last year, and some have taken these figures as gospel.  New jobs, they say.  New taxes from new spending, they say.  The problem with this analysis is glaring, but unreported.  It fails to account for where the money will come from and what the underlying impact of taking it out of your pocket will do to the economy.  This is not new money.  It is borrowed, and it will ultimately come from our taxpaying citizens and our businesses.  When they are forced to give the government money, they can’t spend it in the private sector, invest it in their own future, or save it for a rainy day.  Yet zero consideration for this huge, looming economic squeeze is given.  Let us not forget our federal government is making fiscal promises without passing a budget and by borrowing $0.40 of every $1.00. 

Governor Nixon may find it easy to just say “It’s the right thing to do,” but I’m here to make responsible decisions.  I’m here to be realistic and pragmatic.  Governor Nixon and his allies may feel comfortable trying to hoodwink the public into agreeing with their positions, but I’m here to be honest with you.
 
I will not support this short-sighted, bankrupt idea.  The right thing to do is to support limited government, better tax policy, and growth strategies that will encourage entrepreneurship and economic development.  The right thing to do is transform the Medicaid program to improve access, care delivery, and overall healthier outcomes. It’s not just the right thing, but also the smart thing to do.

Governor Rolls the Dice with Education Funding

On Monday, we heard many grandiose promises from the Governor relating to new policies he is supporting and the budget he is proposing to support those promises.  On some of his broad-based ideas, we find common ground.  However, upon a closer examination of what few specifics he offered, it is becoming clear that he has made promises that are a gamble and could require massive new taxes and spending that Missourians are likely to be more than skeptical about when they see the numbers.  What is worse is that many of these promises will come at the expense of the prosperity of the next generation.

You heard this week that the Governor is proposing that the A+ program will be taken statewide.  What you didn’t hear is that the budget assumes this expansion will only cost $1 million more.  How one assumes that a $30 million program only needs $1 million more to expand statewide is unreasonable and indefensible.  This roll of the dice will not pay off and will cost the state far more than he suggests.  We need to be honest with ourselves when we propose program expenditures.  Moreover, we need to be honest with the people of Missouri.

You also heard that the Governor is adding $100 million to K-12 education in his budget.  What you didn’t hear is that his budget relies on three key legislative proposals simultaneously being passed by the legislature that might bring in extra money.  Only one of these proposals has ever been considered before the legislature and has a history of failing each year - common sense tells us what result we should expect again this year.

What Can We Realistically Expect?

The Republican-led legislature will be moving pragmatically forward over the coming days, weeks, and months to craft a budget that will be based on sounder judgment.  We won’t make you promises that we know will likely fall through.  This commitment to fiscal responsibility will have political consequences.  You will hear that we are “cutting” money for kids or the disabled.  What will actually be happening is a rational, fiscally-responsible, and honest appropriation of funds that the state will actually receive instead of money we dream it will receive.  We will be forthcoming.  We will be transparent.  You deserve no less.

Bonding

By now I am sure you are well aware of our intent here in the Missouri House of Representatives to promote a bonding issue to fund renovations to our state’s infrastructure.  As a strong fiscal conservative, with a crystal clear record of promoting the principle of living within your means, my decision to back the idea of bond issuance deserves a thorough explanation.

In 1982, then Governor Kit Bond was successful in his efforts to convince the Missouri Legislature and a majority of Missouri voters to agree to a bond issuance of $600 million in order to fund building and repair projects across the State of Missouri.  The resounding success of this initiative can be seen all across our great state.  The list of projects completed with this money is vast and includes, but is not limited to, the construction of the Western Missouri Correction Center, the Science Building at UMSL, the Mineral Engineering and Management Building at Missouri S&T, the Business Building at MSU, the Law School Building at UM-Columbia, the Business and Public Administration Building at UMKC, the Recreation Facility at MSU, the Agriculture Engineering Building at UM-Columbia, five group homes in Jackson County for the Department of Mental Health, the Multipurpose Recreational Facility at UMKC, the Major Events Facility at MSU, and the Health Sciences Library at UM-Columbia.  As if this were not enough, this bond also paid for numerous additions, renovations, expansions, and maintenance/repair projects to existing facilities across the state.  Furthermore, it provided funding necessary for soil and water conservation projects, storm water control grants, rural sewer and water system grants, and major park facility improvements.  Having just completed the final payment on this bond and reflecting on what was accomplished; it is crystal clear that it is a success story worth repeating.

After reviewing all the aspects of this issue ranging from its positive economic impact, to the desperately needed improvements to outdated and failing infrastructure, to the historically low interest rates we enjoy as a state with a AAA credit rating, it is clear to me that this is the correct path for our state.

In next week’s report I will address how a bond issuance would directly, and positively, impact you and your family in the years to come.