We had an extremely busy week for the last week of the first half of session.
When we go back after a week off, we will be hearing the Budget bills. The Budget Committee has been working since August to get the bills ready for us to pass and send to the Senate. Budget bills are handled just like any other bill. Each item is presented in committee, testified for and against there, passed out and readied for floor debate. Most of the bills will get little, if any, debate on the floor, but you can be sure the Education and Social Services bills will get some close scrutiny. The State of Missouri has a 24.7 billion dollar budget. The amazing thing is, only about 8 billion is appropriated by the general assembly. The rest is already allocated by Federal and State laws. Things that are untouchable are DOT money, Conservation, Allocations to Medicaid, Federal money for school lunches, etc. The 8 billion that is left has to take care of Education and Social Services primarily. This is about two thirds of the total money. The remaining third is naturally fought over by all the rest of the State agencies. We are compelled by State Law to balance the budget. If there is simply not enough money to go around, then naturally we have to increase revenue. (That's Washington language for RAISING TAXES) That is one thing we are not going to do. Missouri had a small but steady growth last year and that allowed us to add some much needed revenue to education and seniors, for example. The folks that are on the Budget Committee have a tough and mostly thankless job. You can be sure that there were some folks that were unhappy with their share. It will be cussed and discussed for about a week when we get back and then sent over to the Senate. One thing that was left out of the budget was the Medicaid expansion.
The expansion in its present form just doesn't make good sense. What in the world would we cut in order to fund this thing? The so called "savings" depend on cuts to doctors, hospitals, and existing programs which I find pretty unlikely. Our current stand is to wait for some more of the facts to come out. Remember, we don't need to rush into this, it doesn't even take effect until 2014. There are already a handful of states that have a State Medicaid Reform that is working very well.
I've fielded hundreds of questions about the Department of Revenue and their new program of issuing driver's licenses. Let me share what I know at this point. The DOR approved a program whereby the fee offices take our personal information (proof of identity etc.) scan it, and forward it to a center in Georgia where it is processed and our licenses are then mailed back to us.
Page 2 of 2 - A man in the Sikeston area went to the fee office and when they informed him that he would have to surrender his license and carry a permit for scanning and transmittal to Georgia, he refused and told them it was illegal. It is, in fact, a violation of Missouri law to collect or share our personal information. He then contacted a lawyer and a judge issued a restraining order stopping the fee office from scanning anymore documents. The Senate held hearings this week and it appears as if the DOR was sharing our information with Homeland Security in flagrant opposition to our laws. We are just beginning to get to the bottom of this mess.
We still don't know where all the money came from to finance a scanner for every fee office and who is financing the document center in Georgia. Sen. Schaeffer was extremely upset to find out that he had been given false testimony by the director and canceled his committee hearing until they could get the truth. I'll keep you posted on this mess as it unwinds.
We were able to pass several bills last week and send them to our friends in the Senate. There were two different bills dealing with Prevailing Wages. The Governor indicated that he would consider changing some of the rules for school construction and for smaller counties. We sent a bill for each proposal over for the Senate's consideration. We also reinstated the charitable tax credits. These were unfortunately cut by the Governor last year and deal with things like food pantries. We had an emergency clause attached in order to get early action. We also had a bill that encourages Amateur Sports events. This proposal would allow cities to bring in things like Wrestling or Softball Tournaments and get a partial tax credit to help offset the costs. That would really be good for our area.
A lot of schools are out on Spring Break this week so please drive carefully! More next time, until then, I am and remain, in your service.
Bill Lant represents the people of Southwest Missouri in the Mo. House of Representatives. Contact him locally at 437-8223 or at his Jefferson City office at (573) 751-9801 or email him at email@example.com.