Groups representing diverse interests including focuses on healthcare, education, disabilities, labor, children, public safety, and mental health each took a few minutes to explain how the budget situation might be best addressed. The overarching recommendation was that revenue generation needs to be part of the conversation. Thus far, it has not been a serious part of the discussion of how Missouri moves forward. Joining these groups with diversity of priorities and interests together is a move toward setting aside specific agendas in order to shore up the state's economy and work toward the greater good.
It is a tense time for all as the Senate and House conferees meet to make final budget recommendations for the next fiscal year. In the midst of trying to make $500 million in cuts, and consideration of holding back another $300 million for the following budget year, the Governor is busy with cutting and withholding dollars to ensure the current year's budget is in balance. The Parents as Teachers Program, school transportation and Metro are among the casualties of our economic status.
As we all are learning, there is little closure until the Governor is given the final bills and determines which to change or sign into law. Even then, the requirement to balance the budget will force him to use the scalpel or ax should revenues continue to decline.
With you, I look forward to developing solutions.
Thank you for this opportunity to serve.
Rep. Schupp presented awards on Thursday for the Sheraton Westport Lakeside Chalet and the Sheraton Westport Hotel. The hotels were honored at a conference in Columbia for attaining Certified Green Hotel recognition.
This week in the House
TAX CREDIT REFORM, SPEAKER SAYS NOGovernor Nixon is championing the charge to reconsider some tax credits in the wake of our budget woes. In an appeal to stop the bleeding in other areas of the budget, the Governor has put out the message that comprehensive tax credit reform is the next place to look. Speaker Ron Richard said the House won't even consider reform legislation.
With more than 60 tax credit programs inthe state, the cost is about $600 million a year in uncollected revenue. I support the Governor's position that these programs need to be examined, and those that are not effective should be eliminated. It has become obvious that we need a strong mechanism in place to evaluate the successes of these programs which provides not only short term review, but a look at the long term pay off for the state. Particularly during a budget crisis predicted to last for several years, we need to take care not to undermine our long term efforts for short term gain. The balancing act forces us to put everything on the table.
HOUSE ENDORSES COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP EQUALIZATION
This week in the House, The changes to the Access Missouri scholarship program [SB733] passed. As a reminder, the current law provides these need-based scholarships to recipients who attend private colleges or universities up to $4,600 a year, while those who attend public schools get no more than $2,150 annually. New legislation, starting in 2014, would give all recipients up to $2,850 year. Eligible students who attend 2 year colleges would receive $1300 per year.
Higher EducationHB 733--This bill changes the law regarding Higher Education Academic Scholarship Program, also known as Bright Flight Scholarship Program, and the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program.
Bright Flight Scholarship
A recipient must be a Missouri resident to be eligible and eligibility has been extended to students who have received a General Education Development diploma or completed homeschooling. Eligibility is otherwise based entirely upon a student's score in the ACT or SAT college entrance exams.
The students in the top 3% will receive equal amounts of up to $3000 each depending upon appropriations. If there is additional money available, students in the top fourth and fifth percentiles will receive up to $1000 each. A student who is in the military service will receive their scholarship if he or she returns to school full-time within six months after ending service and with the verification of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education.
Access Missouri Program
In addition to the information from the House Floor section above describing the award amounts for Access Missouri, there has also been a change in the GPA (Grade Point Average) requirements. I wrote about this earlier this session. New law, should it pass through both chambers, will require students who have taken less than 60 semester hours to maintain satisfactory academic progress, with a minimum GPA of 2.0. Satisfactory academic progress is determined by the institution the student attends. A student who has more than 60 semester hours is to retain at least a 2.5 GPA.
Tax ReformA bill [SB883] to allow for the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of St. Peters to levy a license tax on hotels and motels failed in committee.
Property tax deferral for senior citizens on fixed income (HB 1835) was heard in committee. As mentioned earlier, I was not able to be present. I look forward to the Executive Session when committee members can have discussion, debate, create amendments and vote on the bill.
Children and FamiliesLegislation heard proposed that the marriage license fees will be reduced if the couple completes premarital counseling outlined in the bill [HB1234]. Our committee chair and her husband, after 6 hours of training, and additional consultation with their minister, are considered qualified to evaluate whether a couple should marry. They would make a recommendation to their minister regarding the couple.
Once married, if a couple plans to divorce and there are minor children involved, the couple must wait a year after filing for divorce to finalize those plans with a few exceptions for physical abuse, adultery, and mental illness that has occurred for at least three years.
GOVERNOR MAKES ANOTHER $45 MILLION IN MIDYEAR CUTSFrom the Minority Caucus Office
A continuing decline in state revenue collections forced Gov. Jay Nixon to cut another $45 million from the current state budget to keep it in balance as required by the Missouri Constitution. To date, the governor has cut more than $900 million from the state operating and capital improvements budgets for the 2010 fiscal year, which ends June 30.
The governor's latest cost-savings actions include reducing state funding for local school districts' student transportation costs by an additional $8 million, cutting another $4.9 million from the Parents as Teachers program, withholding a $4 million payment for the Metro mass transit system in St. Louis and reducing biodiesel subsidies by another $3.2 million.
As of April 20, net general revenue collections for April have fallen 19 percent. According to the Missouri Division of Budget and Planning, a key contributing factor in the decline is that the average state income tax refund is up nearly 8 percent compared to last year, while the average payment is down nearly 30 percent. Year-to-date revenue collections for FY 2010 are down 13.8 percent compared to FY 2009.
Attorney General Koster warns of escalating "Cramming" scamInformation provided from the Attorney General's Office
Attorney General Chris Koster said that a scam called "cramming" ranks near the top of complaints his office receives each year.
Koster said telephone companies contract to provide billing and collection services for third-party companies. Cramming happens when a third-party company adds a charge to your phone bill for a service you didn't order, such as voicemail, Internet service, or calling cards. He said these charges are sometimes hidden on the phone bill under such titles as "enhanced services," "activation," or "web hosting."
"Unethical companies are betting that consumers won't read their phone bills," Koster said. "That's why it's important that consumers carefully review their phone bills each month."
Koster cautioned consumers about entering contests and sweepstakes at fairs or festivals because some entry blanks may double as authorization forms to add phone services. He said people also can get crammed as a result of signing "bonus checks" they receive in the mail and by responding to offers of prizes and cash solicited by mail.
"Always read the small print, and if a form or a caller asks for your phone number, ask questions and find out why they need the number," Koster said. "If you do get crammed, call your local phone company immediately and ask that the charges be removed, and call the company named on the bill and explain you did not request the services and ask that they be removed. Then call the Attorney General's Consumer Hotline at 1-800-392-8222 and file a complaint."
Koster said his office received 705 cramming complaints in 2009 and his Consumer Complaint Division is currently investigating a number of companies for the practice.