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22 August 2011

Lant: Economic Development Workgroups

We started last week with a trip to Jefferson City on Sunday evening. There is a lot less traffic on weekends and it lets me get ready for Monday's meeting. At 9:00 A.M. Monday, we started our Interim Workgroup meeting on Economic Development. We had a three hour presentation and round table discussion with Representative Barney Fisher. Representative Fisher from Nevada, is the Chairman of the House Workforce Development Committee. He shared proposals and bill presentations from his past seven years on the committee. He emphasized how much change there has been in the past few years. Today's problems are totally different than what they were facing in 2004. Our priority now is to help generate jobs in Missouri by whatever means we have at our disposal. Our recent session fell short of expectations, but I think that the special session that has been long awaited and next winters' regular session will be much more productive. Representative Fisher drew our attention to Missouri's unemployment laws and how there are so many inconsistencies that it's hard to know exactly what we are responsible for. We need to find some new ways to police the system and cut down on the waste, fraud, and abuse that we hear so much about. There have been several theories about retraining, workfare, and revising eligibility, but there is no clear answer to all the problems. It is certainly something that we need to address and soon! We also were brought up to speed on the pending problems with our Veteran's homes. Several years ago, the voters approved an assessment from Casino entry fees to help fund the Veterans Homes. This proved to be so successful that an excess soon appeared. Before it could be used to build additional homes, it caught the eye of some progressive thinking legislators and was appropriated for other purposes. Needless to say, now that costs have increased, the pittance they left for the original purpose of funding the Homes, is now inadequate. I'll bet it will be a lot harder to get some of it back than it was to give it away! Regardless of the method, it is something that we must address and find a solution for. We absolutely cannot let our Veterans' Homes go in need.

The next two sessions were conducted by Jim Kistler, President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors and Ray McCarty, President and CEO of Associated Industries. Jim presented a power point lecture dealing with the Right to Work issue. We were shown figures and comparisons to the six of eight surrounding states that have Right to Work status compared to ourselves. One interesting contrast was drawn between ourselves and Tennessee. We have very similar populations, transportation facilities, infrastructure, educational opportunities and workforce. We were, in fact, nearly identical statistic wise until Tennessee became a Right to Work State. They have, since that time, continued to widen the gap between us.

Mr. McCarty addressed our problems with the second injury fund. Missouri has a large liability that will continue to grow larger unless the legislature makes some changes to the program. This fund was established after World War Two to give some protection to employers who wanted to hire vets with war injuries. It's intent was to keep an employer from exorbitant workman's comp claims in case of an additional injury. As with most programs that started with good intentions, loopholes have been found and created that have turned a good thing into a nightmare. One of the most mind numbing revelations was that our Governor, when he was Secretary of State, allowed trial attorneys to attach 25% of an injury settlement fee. These fees are paid on "disability" claims that are paid out monthly for life! We were shown examples of workers who are still employed, who have been awarded three 50% disability claims! Yep, they are 150% disabled and still working every day. Remember the trial attorney, he is drawing 25% of all three settlements monthly as long as the worker lives. Who needs a 401K with that kind of deal.

When I first started these interim study groups, all I was trying to do was get a little better educated and a little better prepared for next session. The 20 or so of us that have participated have gained insights that would have taken us years to acquire otherwise. I intend to continue this method of self education and I'm willing to bet that other groups spring up next session when they hear about our success.

Mr. Aaron Jeffries with the Conservation Department was kind enough to accompany me to Stella on Wednesday to take a look at Indian Creek. Several weeks ago Jane and I stopped at Big R's in Stella for lunch and got to talking with Randy Crawford. (It's nearly impossible to go there and not talk to Randy) We were reminiscing about the trout placements in Indian Creek that the Department did years ago. One thing led to another and I went back to Jeff City and asked Aaron about the possibility of doing that again. On Wednesday Aaron showed me data that they had collected and apparently the aquifer is lower today and the water temperature is a few degrees to warm for trout to live year around. He did agree to add smallmouth on occasion. Aaron was very impressed with the Park in Stella and told me that Indian Creek is one of the healthiest streams in Missouri. He will continue to monitor the Creek for us and when the water temperature drops a few degrees, we can try to get trout again. It's probably a good thing that Jane wasn't with us because Aaron stepped on one of the slick rocks and went in to his knee. When he was scrambling out he disturbed (you guessed it), a couple of snakes that were sunning on the rocks.

I received an e-mail from State Auditor Tom Schweich on Friday saying that the audit of the Governors' withholdings from the 2012 Budget were improper. The Governor withheld 170 million from Community Colleges, Children's Services, Courts and Judges, Senior Health Programs, and others.These withholdings were made before the 2012 fiscal year began and before the disasters that have stricken our state. The Missouri Constitution allows for withholdings when revenues are less than estimates, not when there is an increase in inappropriate costs. It appears that the Legislature has yet another project on its' hands for the Special Session. With as many Lawyers as we have in Jefferson City, you would think some of these mistakes could be avoided. Oh Well, I'll have more next week!

Until then, I am, and remain, in your service,
Bill Lant

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