Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, touted accomplishments of this year’s legislative session during a stop in Washington last Friday.
Jones discussed the economy, the failed transportation sales tax bill, medical malpractice reform and other issues during his visit at G.H. Tool & Mold, Inc.
His appearance was part of a statewide tour in which he also discussed goals for the next legislative session.
After his speech, Jones told The Missourian that he would look into legislation next year to strengthen Missouri’s open meetings and open records laws.
Bills that would have made the law stronger failed to get passed this year.
Jones said he supports open government.
“I’ve always supported improving transparency and accountability through the Sunshine Act and open meetings and open records law,” Jones said.
In the past, the House has supported improvements to the Sunshine Law, he said. But the efforts “kind of stall out in the Senate,” he said.
He said, “I’ll be happy to put my weight and support behind them next year. I would look for that to come back.”
He called the failed transportation sales tax bill “unfinished business,” adding, “I’m happy to have the conversation again next year.”
He said he personally thought the 1-cent sales tax that was proposed in the bill was too high and that he would have been more open to a quarter-cent or half-cent sales tax.
The 1-cent tax would have generated about $7.9 billion over its 10-year life. Jones said he felt giving a “blank check” of that amount to the Missouri Department of Transportation was too much.
The bill passed the House, but it was filibustered in the Senate at the end of the session.
Jones, whose district includes part of Franklin County, agreed that Missouri has a transportation funding crisis because MoDOT’s budget has been slashed.
Jones said he focused on three areas in the session — economic development/job creation, updating Missouri’s energy infrastructure and education funding/reform.
One of the bigger accomplishments was the income tax decrease, he said.
He noted that Gov. Jay Nixon has until mid-July to veto bills and has expressed concerns about the income tax decrease.
Jones noted that Missouri competes against at least seven of its eight border states for jobs. Illinois’ high taxes on small business and budget deficit seem to drive jobs here, he said.
However, other border states are making positive steps to grow jobs, he said. For instance, he said Kansas recently implemented a significant tax cut and Oklahoma is lowering taxes, and Tennessee has no state income tax.
Jones said the income tax decrease was passed to keep Missouri competitive when it comes to jobs. This is the “first time in nearly a century we passed broad-based tax relief for all Missourians,” Jones said.
Jones noted that the income tax decrease will be phased in as additional revenue comes to the state. This way the state won’t get in a budget crunch by cutting income before there is more revenue, he said.
Right to Work
It was an “earthquake” when Michigan last year became a right to work state, Jones said.
Now the right to work debate is going on in Missouri, he added. A right to work bill moved further in the House this year than it has in decades, Jones said.
There were two labor reform bills in the House that he called “common sense.” He said these bills dealt with paycheck protection and prevailing wage.
Paycheck protection, he said, “requires unions that represent public employees to obtain their consent before using their hard-earned wages for political purposes.”
The prevailing wage bill that passed “simply says the prevailing hourly rate of wages on public works projects should be more reflective of the wage in different parts of the state.”
He said this will save taxpayer money. For instance, when a local government hires a company to construct a new building, the amount of money paid to the contractor is the prevailing wage of the entire state, he said. That amount of money is typically reflective of the highest wages of St. Louis and Kansas City, Jones added.
The bills are still subject to the governor’s approval, he said.
Despite all of the national economic problems “Missouri has weathered the fiscal storm,” Jones said.
The state has more than $500 million in additional revenue this year compared to last, he said.
And the state’s unemployment rate is the lowest it has been in five years, Jones said.
The state’s extra revenue means that it is able to put more money into K-12 education and higher learning, he said.
Likewise, the state can devote more funding to mental health, such as rebuilding the Fulton State Hospital, which Jones said is about 40 years overdue.
Also, Missouri can put money back into tourism and parks, which he said were among the worst cut areas in the recession.
Medical Malpractice Reform, Voter ID
Capping the amount of damages that defendants can receive in medical malpractice lawsuits is another issue he would like to work on, he said.
“We have no medical malpractice protection for any of our health care providers when they get hauled into court and sued for punitive damages,” Jones said.
This does not help the state grow its health care industry, he said, adding that he supports fair redress for defendants.
Jones said he also thinks requiring a photo ID for voters is “perfectly reasonable.” But he noted that Missouri’s voter ID law was struck down in court, and it will have to be a constitutional amendment decided by the people to be put back in place.