The start of every legislative session is similar to the start of every baseball season — hope springs eternal.
But by the end of the session, five sometimes grueling and exasperating months later, there is usually a sense of relief that the whole affair is over.
That was the case again this year.
The session, which began in January with a Republican promise of a “Triple E” agenda of economic development, energy policy and education, ended last week with Democrats describing it as a triple dose of extremism.
A few meaningful bills passed, many more failed and there was even more missed opportunities by our state legislators especially with respect to their top goals. In short, it was a fairly typical legislative session.
There was predictable political infighting among Republicans who control both chambers by wide margins. There was also plenty of the political gamesmanship and partisan grandstanding that have characterized the past few sessions.
But was the session a success? That depends on who is doing the scoring. To be sure, Republican legislators served up the obligatory accolades calling it a success and “historic” while Democrats criticized it as “an abject failure.”
One way we like to measure the session is by judging it against the state’s motto, “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”
So did our public servants honor our state motto this past session?
They did with respect to a few issues, including finally passing legislation to fix the state’s bankrupt Second Injury Fund. The 70-year-old fund that covers workers with pre-existing injuries has been insolvent for a number of years with unpaid claims of more than $28 million to more than 1,000 injured workers.
Lawmakers deserve credit for getting this done.
Republicans are also claiming credit for passing the first corporate and personal income tax cut in over 90 years.
The new tax law would make some major changes to the state code over the next decade and is projected to reduce state revenues by about $700 million annually when it is fully phased-in.
Proponents say the bill will make the state more competitive for attracting businesses. We are not so sure about that claim since Missouri is already a low tax state.
We’re all for lower taxes but we agree with critics of the legislation who say this legislation doesn’t address the real problem with the Missouri individual income tax — it’s incredibly complicated.
The Legislature should have taken this opportunity to overhaul the system for the better by simply flattening the brackets and modernizing the tax code.
It may not matter. Gov. Jay Nixon has signaled he may veto the legislation out of concern for its impact on the state’s ability to fund public services with less revenue.
If the cuts do indeed result in devastating cuts to schools, public safety, parks, and other services throughout the state as critics project, then we would argue the welfare of the people has not been served.
The Legislature missed another opportunity to serve the welfare of the people when it failed to pass a transportation bill that would put a 1-cent transportation tax on the ballot for Missouri voters to decide.
Kuddos to local state Reps. Dave Schatz and Dave Hinson for pushing the bill and having the guts to try and find a solution to what is rapidly becoming the state’s most serious problem. There is no question regarding the need, just a lack of will by the majority of our public servants to address the problem.
But the biggest missed opportunity this past session was the Legislature’s failure to pass a Medicaid expansion bill.
Gov. Nixon made a convincing economic case for expanding Medicaid at Mercy Hospital Washington in April. Nixon argued that it was the right thing to do and the smart thing to do before an audience of medical professionals, business owners and law enforcement officials who were in agreement.
Unfortunately, the Legislature didn’t see it that way. Political ideology trumped pragmatism in both the transportation tax and Medicaid expansion failures. Both would have created jobs and stimulated the economy. The Medicaid expansion would have added about 300,000 more Missourians to the rolls.
We’d argue that legislators ignored the welfare of the people in these two critical issues.