by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – They don’t punch the time clock until early January but the work is already underway.
State lawmakers are busy politicking, promoting ideas and preparing legislation for the 2014 session. With an economy that’s still struggling and an uncertain outcome of the national health care law, much is at stake in Jefferson City.
State Rep. Vicki Englund (D) gave “Missouri Viewpoints” a preview of what’s in store.
“We have a lot of issues that were unresolved from last session, a lot of things in the federal spotlight that impact us here in Missouri and, so, I hear from constituents from just about on a daily basis as to what types of things we need to be focused on in Jefferson City.”
Republican leaders are promising another attempt to cut business and personal taxes after that effort fell apart in the 2013 veto session. Englund sees improvement in Missouri’s economy at this point but wants fiscal priorities somewhere other than tax cuts.
“We haven’t been giving the schools and the children what they need – and I’m also on my local school board as well, so this is an issue that’s very near and dear to me – we currently don’t have enough money to pay for those bills. So, I don’t see how we can cut taxes at this time.”
Republican legislative leaders say cutting taxes will spur economic activity and, as a result, increase revenue to the state.
Another part of the revenue and spending discussion involves tax credits. While the legal and political fallout of the Mamtek debacle continues, tax credit reform is likely to be brought up again. In recent years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for changes to the system and the amount of credits being given.
The disagreement often comes when it’s time to decide which credits stay, which go, which are reduced and which remain unchanged. That’s sometimes not a partisan debate but rather a regional one, with lawmakers of both parties whose districts are impacted by specific programs defending them.
The bipartisan ship on a few fiscal issues is a good starting point, according to Englund.
“We, as party members, shouldn’t work in a vacuum. We need to do more of what Washington clearly cannot do, which is talk to each other.”
The political reality is that Democratic lawmakers are in a position that requires them to embrace any part of that conversation they can get. Republicans vastly outnumber Democrats in both chambers. Theoretically, Republicans can pass any legislation they want and overcome a veto if they all vote with their party.
The 2013 veto session showed that to be easier said than done, although Republicans led a record number of successful veto overrides.
Englund says she hopes lawmakers think long-term when deciding the priorities for each annual budget. In her view, that may lead to more consensus on spending priorities even during lean years where budgets still have to be cut.
Among those long term decisions that will have to be made at some point: what to do about a highway system in need of repair in many areas and in need of expansion in some? A statewide sales tax and toll roads have both been suggested. Neither are likely to be popular but Englund says “tough decisions” will have to be made in order to keep the state’s infrastructure in appropriate condition.
Tough decisions have to be made, one way or the other, on issues including the proposed “streamline” sales tax on online purchases and on matters of health care.
Englund favors expanding the Medicaid roles in Missouri. That proposal is part of the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare”) and has been rejected by Missouri lawmakers up to this point.
“We need to move forward and be able to help Missourians. There’s a group of Missourians who don’t have health insurance, who need it, and we have the ability to provide it.”
Providing it through the federal government incentives would add hundreds of thousands of Missourians to those Medicaid roles. Republicans often argue the state cannot afford the extra cost while Democrats often argue the state cannot afford not to expand the program, which includes subsidies from Washington.
While some of the issues will remain the same, including a likely tax cut proposal and Medicaid expansion, what remains to be seen is how much the conversation and party unity changes. In addition to a changing economy and continued problems in Washington, lawmakers have another factor in the mix: 2014 is also an election year.
On the web: www.VickiEnglund.com