South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

State Legislature concludes 2013 session

Groundwork set for confrontation with governor

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri’s Legislature adjourned Friday night after laying the groundwork for a major confrontation with the state’s governor later this year.

Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon already has vetoed two major issues passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

And he’s attacked two other major legislative measures with language so hostile it’s hard to envision him turning around and signing them.

The Legislature will have a chance to take up anything Nixon has rejected during the veto session in September.

The Legislature was equally unreceptive to the governor. Three of the major issues that had been at the core of Nixon’s 2013 legislative agenda got little attention from lawmakers — Medicaid expansion, reinstating campaign contribution limits and scaling back tax credits.

Two of those issues did not even get out of committee for House or Senate consideration.

And instead of a major reduction in tax credits, lawmakers sent Nixon a package of much larger tax cuts that legislative staff estimate could cost the state more than $600 million per year in lost revenues.

The significant issues and disputes for the 2013 legislative session included:

• Guns: Sparked by the president’s call for stronger federal firearms laws, Missouri’s legislature responded with measures reaffirming Second Amendment rights and seeking to block any new federal firearms restrictions from taking effect in Missouri.

Also passed by the Legislature were bills to let school districts arm teachers and other school staff.

A new wrinkle to the debate arose in the middle of the session when lawmakers discovered that the state administration had turned over to the federal government a list of all Missourians who have concealed weapons permits. The disclosure led to a bundle of bills to impose restrictions on the Department of Revenue’s handling of documents submitted by Missourians to get driver licenses.

• Medicaid: Nixon spent much of the early months of the session traveling around the state promoting his plan to expand Medicaid health care coverage to adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. His efforts were in vain. The Medicaid bill never reached either the House or Senate floor.

The plan would have added about 100,000 Missourians to the program with full funding by the federal government for the first few years. Although the idea had strong support from the health care industry, many Republican legislators argued federal funding could be cut substantially in future years, leaving the state with having to cover the costs.

Some progress was made on a measure in the House. But when the Senate’s GOP leader declared the idea dead in the Senate, House efforts ceased.

• Tax cuts — A major package of tax cuts for businesses and income tax payers was one of the major issues approved by the 2013 legislative session.

But its future on the governor’s desk is in doubt.

“Taking more than $800 million out of our state budget — the equivalent of wiping out all of public higher education or closing all state prisons or eliminating the Department of Mental Health and the services it provides — is not the fiscally responsible approach,” Nixon told reporters just one day after the measure cleared the legislature.

Legislative staff estimate that when it takes full effect, it would cost the state $692 million per year in lost revenues, although the loss could be $200 million less if the federal government authorizes states to collect sales taxes on Internet sales.

• Business tax breaks — The Legislature’s annual effort to provide tax breaks for various types of businesses was killed by a Senate filibuster by members who demanded that the package also include significant cuts in tax credits for real estate developers involved with low income housing construction and historic building renovation.

For the last few years, the House-Senate dispute over tax credits that cost the state about $600 million per year has gridlocked the two chambers on economic development measures to provide business incentives.

In a 2011 special session called by Nixon, a similar dispute blocked action on the “China Hub” bill to provide tax breaks for international freight handlers at the St. Louis airport.

• Government ethics — The governor’s call for stronger ethics and campaign finance laws went nowhere in the 2013 legislative session.

Nixon had called on lawmakers to restore the voter-approved campaign contribution limits that the legislature had repealed. He also called for restoration of stronger ethics enforcement provisions that had been struck down by the courts on a technicality.

But nothing on those ideas came before the House or Senate.

In his State of the State address to lawmakers in January, Nixon warned lawmakers that if they did not act, he would support an initiative petition campaign to put the issue before the voters.

• Transportation — Early in the legislative session, a sales tax increase for transportation seemed on the fast track to being placed on the statewide ballot for voter approval. The 10-year plan won easy approval in the House and Senate.

But when it returned to the Senate for adoption of minor House changes, it ran into a filibuster that blocked a final vote. Critics charged that raising taxes was not a Republican theme. Others argued that a sales tax would impose an unfair tax burden on the lower income.

Some supporters suggested they might go around the Legislature and collect signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

• Government buildings: —The key issue for Missouri’s House speaker, Tim Jones, got shelved by the Senate without even getting a hearing.

The measure would have sought voter approval for the state to issue more than $1 billion in bonds for government building construction across the state.

From the start, Jones had conceded that the plan could involve a two-year effort.

Even without a bond issue, lawmakers approved a major building construction plan.

An unexpected growth in state revenue collections prompted the governor and legislators to add major building construction additions into the state’s regular budget.

But after legislative approval, Nixon attacked the plan to construct a $38 million state office building in Jefferson City.

“This is a Legislature that decided to add to its budget $38 million to build a state office building for bureaucrats,” Nixon said.

Besides the $38 million item, the budget also included $50 million to renovate the state Capitol.