It’s been easy to chastise the Missouri Legislature over the past four or five years.
Lawmakers squandered countless opportunities, wasted time and taxpayers’ money on far too many small-bore, often ideologically driven distractions at the expense of the big-picture issues of jobs, education and health.
It’s easy to poke fun at lawmakers for indulging in issues like Sharia law, Agenda 21 and attempts to nullify federal gun laws.
Call us old-fashioned, we feel it more prudent for legislators to focus more energy on the most vital, high-level issues facing Missouri.
Now that the smoke has cleared on the 2014 legislative session, it’s clear that lawmakers did a better job on that front this year and spent their time more productively.
There were still missed opportunities. The Legislature whiffed again on Medicaid expansion and ethic reform. Likewise, some will be disappointed in many of the legislative outcomes, the school transfer bill being a prime example.
Gov. Jay Nixon will have plenty of opportunities to use his veto pen.
But there was more bipartisanship displayed this session than in the past few years. That was a positive. Too often, the Legislature channels Congress which is never a good idea if you are interested in getting things done.
Lawmakers were a bit more farsighted than we’ve seen in a while. Republicans, who hold super majorities in both chambers, pushed the pause button on the intra-party fighting that has seriously limited their capabilities to impose its agenda.
The session started out — as it usually does — with a mandate to create jobs. Republicans boast they’ve done just that by passing the first income tax reduction in nearly a century. If you believe in the theory of trickle-down economics, then this bill is the medicine for our state’s ailing economy.
The problem is that the modest tax cut doesn’t even kick in until 2017 and won’t be fully phased in until 2021 and that is only if state revenues grow.
It’s hard to get too excited about this bill being a catalyst for job creation — at least in the near term.
The Legislature did pass a transportation infrastructure tax proposal that will go before Missouri voters this November that would fuel job growth if approved. The measure would raise the state sales tax by three-quarters of a cent to pay for roads and other transportation projects. It would represent the largest sales tax increase in Missouri history which means it faces an uncertain fate at the ballot.
You are not alone if you are scratching your head as to the contradiction in the Legislature cutting and attempting to raise taxes in the same session. But make no bones about it, the state needs more revenue for its transportation system. Give lawmakers, especially local representatives Dave Schatz and Dave Hinson, credit for trying to be proactive on this front.
Also give the Legislature credit for passing a revised criminal code which was years in the making. Lawmakers also deserve praise for the bipartisan effort on a number of health care measures, including the restoration of dental services for Medicaid recipients and extension of the MoRX program through 2017.
Lawmakers did the right thing lifting the ban on receiving food stamps by people with felony records and by shoring up funding for early childhood education.
Clearly there were more bright spots this past session than we’ve seen in a while. We’re hopeful it’s the start of things to come.
Unfortunately for lawmakers, the most enduring commentary of this past session was captured in a story by the St. Louis Post Dispatch of the three, 200-pound hogs that were served to legislators in the Capitol by a company that runs a massive hog-feeding operation in northern Missouri.
According to the Post, the company has been a major player in the Legislature for years, winning special legal protections for its operations.
Thanks in part to a bill passed by the Legislature last year, Smithfield is now actually owned by a Chinese conglomerate.
We can’t shake the symbolism and the irony of that scene from our minds and neither should you. It was a stinging metaphor for this past session.
Missouri has some of the weakest ethic laws in the nation. Lawmakers missed another opportunity to correct this problem.
The pork has to stop.