The do and don't list for the Missouri Legislature
The Kansas City Star
After two years of gridlock and goofiness, the Missouri Legislature’s new leaders are vowing that 2013 will be a productive session.
That could be good or bad, depending on what lawmakers actually produce.
There are reasons to be optimistic. Some lawmakers bent on obstruction have left the Capitol, and those remaining seem determined to build a record of accomplishment.
Here are five things the legislature should get done:
Expand Medicaid limits.
This single step would provide financial and medical security for up to 300,000 Missourians, improve health outcomes and act as economic jet fuel. One reliable study estimates it would create 22,000 sustainable jobs over seven years.
Put a bond issue on the ballot.
A few weeks ago, Missouri made its last payment on a $600 million construction financing plan that voters approved in 1982. That bond issue, passed in the midst of an economic downturn when Republican Kit Bond was governor, created hundreds of jobs and upgraded roads, parks and public buildings.
After prioritizing the state’s construction needs, Gov. Jay Nixon and lawmakers should take advantage of today’s low interest rates and Missouri’s AAA credit rating to put a new proposal before voters.
Collect taxes on Internet sales.
Missouri loses millions of dollars a year for lack of a mechanism to receive sales tax payments from retailers who sell merchandise online and through catalogues to state residents. Besides being poor fiscal policy, this is unfair to Missouri’s brick-and-mortar businesses which must assess a state sales tax.
Missouri should join Kansas and 23 other states in an agreement that sets up a structure to make it easier for out-of-state retailers to voluntarily pay sales taxes.
Missouri’s campaign finance and ethics laws are the nation’s weakest. It is the only state to allow lawmakers to receive both unlimited campaign donations and unlimited gifts from lobbyists.
Republicans are zeroing in on one troubling aspect of campaign financing — the ability of sham nonprofit groups to donate large sums without revealing the source of their funding. That should be fixed. But a bipartisan effort also is needed to pass limits on campaign contributions and lobbyist gifts.
*Empower school reform. *
Missouri’s current law creates a multi-year limbo for troubled districts like the Kansas City Public Schools. They can languish almost indefinitely in provisionally accredited or unaccredited status. Legislators should establish a community-based process that would assess options and possible state intervention immediately after a district becomes unaccredited.
And here are three things the legislature shouldn’t do:
Don’t follow Kansas over the cliff.
Kansas’ dramatic slashing of income tax rates is putting pressure on Missouri to do the same. But Missouri’s tax rates overall already are very low, and lawmakers shouldn’t repeat Kansas’ folly of lowering taxes without any way of making up the revenue. Any tax decreases should be offset by tighter controls on Missouri’s runaway tax credit programs.
Don’t pick a fight with unions.
Some Republicans want to hamper the ability of unions to collect dues from members, or to use dues to support political candidates. But these measures would embroil the legislature in a prolonged battle with organized labor, but do nothing to improve the state’s business climate.
Don’t put guns in schools.
Authorizing teachers and administrators with gun permits to take weapons into schools is not the way to respond to the tragic events in Connecticut. Nixon has vowed to veto any such legislation, and lawmakers should find more thoughtful and productive ways to deal with gun violence.