It would not be accurate to call the 2012 Missouri regular legislative session, which ended Friday, a bust. Although plenty of pundits are saying just that.
To be fair, lawmakers did pass a few meaningful pieces of legislation. But it’s also true they punted on many of the pressing issues confronting the state.
That’s not unusual. That is how it’s been for a while now in Jefferson City.
Despite the self-congratulatory fistpumping by some political leaders on Friday after the session ended, real legislative victories were few and far between.
Finding solutions to tough problems is hard work and requires bipartisan determination or in the case of the Missouri legislature, bicameral cooperation, since both chambers are overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans.
In most cases, that was in short supply this past session. So were leadership and statesmanship. Instead, the people of the “Show Me” state were treated to the usual petty bickering and intra-party rancor as well as a healthy dose of posturing and political pandering that has plagued past sessions.
As in the recent past, crafting the state budget consumed most of the session and sucked up most of the oxygen in the Capitol. Legislators eventually passed a $24 billion budget that included a 2-percent pay raise for about 97 percent of state workers and a modest increase in higher education funding.
Lawmakers deserve credit for finding a funding solution in the budget for state-run veterans homes. The seven skilled nursing facilities were in jeopardy of running out of funding in the coming months in part because lawmakers had to co-opt some of their funding to balance past budgets.
The Legislature also deserves credit for passing some important criminal justice legislation including a bill that would lessen the disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing.
Lawmakers passed a watered-down child-care bill that would tighten restrictions on unlicensed day care facilities that is better than nothing but a lot weaker than the original version that we preferred.
Proving that the Legislature can rally to find common cause, it passed a bill to address a recent Supreme Court decision that threw out local sales taxes on out-of-state auto purchases in cities and counties that have not passed use taxes. The court decision could blow a huge hole in some city and county budgets and would put Missouri auto dealers in a competitive disadvantage with dealers in neighboring states.
Remarkably, Gov. Nixon has indicated he will veto the bill on constitutional grounds because it does not include a requirement for a public vote. This announcement heaps more frustration on two earlier vetoes in the session when Nixon thwarted much-needed employment discrimination and workers’ comp reform bills.
What this session didn’t produce was a major economic development or jobs bill, a plan for the state’s Second Injury Fund which is bankrupt, or a better way to administer the state’s tax credit program.
There were no sweeping proposals passed to address revenue inadequacies in the state budget. Lawmakers (and apparently the governor) are determined to hold the line on taxes at any cost. So there were no serious attempts to raise the lowest in the nation cigarette tax, adopt an internet sales tax or find a funding solution for our deteriorating roads and bridges.
Nor could the Legislature muster the moxie to pass any major education legislation this year preferring instead to let the courts tackle the tough problems including issues surrounding the state’s education foundation formula.
Even a bill that had overwhelming support which would have allowed the state to immediately take over the failing Kansas City public schools died in the last minutes of the session — a victim of petty politics and political egos.
There were times this past session when it appeared our state legislators were channeling their counterparts in Congress. Given Congress’ approval ratings, that isn’t too smart.