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23 June 2011

Sater: A Waiting Game For Governor's Signature

Legislators around the state are watching what bills the Governor will or won’t sign, and trying to prepare our schedules if a Special Session is called. There are two issues which could prompt a Special Session in Jefferson City: 1) Bills that passed the House concerning business and workplace issues, but did not make it through the Senate; and 2) Where do we obtain the funds to help with the restoration of the city of Joplin, and the restoration of Southeast Missouri where the Corp. of Engineers flooded thousands of acres of farmland.

The present formula for disasters declared by the federal government is the feds pay 90% and the state picks up the other 10%, which is estimated to be in the 50 million dollar range. Our state is, of course, is pressing for the feds to pay 100% since we are revenue strapped. If we have to pay the 50 million, we can either decrease next year’s budget or borrow the money from the “Rainy Day Fund” which is around $250 million. This has to be paid back within three years with interest which is very low at around 1%. The “Rainy Day Fund” was set up for just this sort of thing. I believe it is better fiscal policy to use the fund and spread out the expenditures over the three years instead of slashing necessary programs for one year. Businesses do this all the time to spread out expenses, so they can meet payroll and expand.

A few weeks ago I received the Governor’s expenditure restrictions for the 2012 budget. The most significant reduction was to higher education which will be decreased by 7% below last year’s budget. The General Assembly compromised on a 4.5% decrease, but the Governor wanted the 7% reduction, and I agree. I find it interesting that when public institutions budgets are decreased, they complain loudly that they cannot exist, but then find ways of increasing efficiency to provide the same services. It seems they never do this unless forced into it. Additionally, there are also many degree programs that do not have enough students to be financially feasible and these programs need consolidation with other departments. Almost every department has a dean and assistant deans and by consolidating two or three departments into one, you save hundreds of thousands of dollars on administration costs. But, if you keep the funding level the same or higher each year, these efficiencies don’t seem to take place. As important as our public colleges are, there is some waste and inefficiencies in running these operations, and this needs to be addressed.

Concerning higher education, for the last 2 years, I have been working with UMKC and Missouri State, for a Pharmacy Doctorate Program at Missouri State, but supervised by UMKC School of Pharmacy. It will take $2 million dollars to run this program for approximately 25 students. Being on the Budget Committee, I offered an amendment last year for this amount and it passed in the House, but the Senate took it out. This year again, I did the same thing and it passed. Fortunately, the Governor is much in favor of this program, because he knows these are 25 students that will stay in southwest Missouri and these are great paying jobs. In the expenditure restrictions discussed above, the Governor left this in the budget. Missouri State and UMKC are excited about this opportunity because of the shortage of pharmacists in southwest Missouri.

Another bill on the Governor’s desk that we are hoping he will sign is HB 294. This deals with the right to carry firearms. The main provision was to lower the age to obtain a “conceal and carry” permit to 21 years of age. It also limits taxation on firearms and ammo to no greater than other outdoor products. This keeps state government from deciding it will increase taxes on those products which is really a way of limiting sales. We will see what comes of this.

As required by law we will reconvene in September for Veto Session. This is scheduled every year, so we know to schedule this on our calendars. The problem with a Special Session is no one knows if and when it will happen, and since many of us have regular or part time jobs, this can be difficult. I am working as a relief pharmacist this summer and once I commit myself, it’s a done deal, unless there is a serious problem that comes up. So, like my colleagues I’ll just wait and see what happens.

My Capitol office is only open on Mondays & Thursdays now (interim hours), so leave a message if no one is there. You can also call me at my home in Cassville (417/847-4661).

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