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28 July 2011

Stouffer: Governor Calls for Special Session

The top issue for most of us in the Missouri Legislature this year is more jobs for Missourians. We spent the regular session working toward this goal, but some believe the job is not fully complete. Now, we will come back in September and discuss further ideas for putting Missourians back to work.

As I have said in the past, I believe it is the private sector — not government — that makes jobs happen. The best thing that government can provide is the infrastructure to incubate economic growth and to get out of the way.

The main point of this year’s special session will be to address tax credit reform. During the regular session, time ran out on House Bill 116. This measure focused on tax credits, and also dealt with what has named “Aerotropolis,” a cargo hub proposal for Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. The idea is to make Missouri a major trading hub for the entire world; a move that supporters say would benefit all of Missouri, including those wanting to feed a hungry world with our farm products.

Tax credit reform could include the end of some tax credits and an expansion of others. There are several different ideas that have been floated, and I am sure there will be others by this fall’s special session. The biggest complaint about tax credits is that they are not subject to appropriations. In 1999, approximately $143 million in tax credits were redeemed. In 2010, that number jumped to approximately $521 million. Lawmakers have no control over this. Ironically, our budget gap for both Fiscal Years 2011 and 2012 totaled around $500 million. If tax credits were not around, maybe our budget would be easier to deal with.

Aerotropolis has both supporters and opponents. Those in favor say the plan would boost the state’s economy and add jobs just about everywhere in Missouri. Those who are against say it would be a major expense that would cost more than it is worth. They make the argument, “If it is such a good idea, then investors would have already fronted the money for it.” We will see how the debate goes in September.

Currently, the plan is to hold the special session in conjunction with the annual veto session, since lawmakers will be in Jefferson City anyway. The special session, likely, could start the first week of September and continue for a second week. This would provide plenty of time to introduce a bill, hold hearings, debate it on the floor and have something delivered to the governor for his signature.

No matter what, we need to get folks back to work in Missouri. The recession and slow economy have gone on for too long. We were able to get a lot accomplished, in terms of providing for job creation and economic development, during the regular session. Now, we will be returning to continue to stay on this focus.

Kraus: Town Hall Meetings

This week, several state representatives, municipal leaders, and I hosted two town meetings in the district. As always, it was great to hear from people from the district on issues that are important to you.

Lee’s Summit

On Monday evening, I participated in a town hall at the Lee’s Summit City Hall along with Reps. Jeff Grisamore, Mike Cierpiot and Gary Cross. I’d like to thank Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads and the city for allowing us the use of the council chambers for this meeting. About fifty residents showed up for the meeting, and they came with a wide variety of questions and ideas.

After each elected official gave a brief summary of this year’s session, we opened the floor to questions. Among the many topics discussed were programs and funding for disabled Missourians, funding for Missouri’s Department of Transportation, and possible ideas for raising taxes on gasoline or cigarettes.

Perhaps the most common theme of the night was ethics in government. Several specific ethical issues were raised, and while it is hard to comment on specific incidents, each elected official present was clear that ethical standards must be held high so that our constituents trust what we are doing.

Blue Springs

On Tuesday evening, I participated in a town hall at Moreland Ridge Middle School with Rep. Sheila Solon. We were joined by Blue Springs Councilmen Grant Bowerman and Ron Fowler. About 40 residents from Blue Springs, Grain Valley and Oak Grove attended the town hall.

Interestingly, the issues raised Tuesday evening were a bit different. Several union representatives touched on the “Right to Work” issue that comes before the Legislature almost annually. We had several questions surrounding Missouri’s budget and the growth of social services. We were asked about proposals to implement a flat tax (the same percentage for all taxpayers) or Fair Tax (eliminating the income tax in favor of a higher sales tax.) And we took a few questions relating to jobs and economic development.

It was also interesting to hear the discussion involving city issues. Blue Springs is considering changes to its solid waste programs, and that dominated the discussion.

I consider these town halls to be a valuable asset. In addition to the questions and comments during the meeting, I am always able to talk one-on-one with residents before and after these events. These conversations help me understand what constituents of the 8th District expect from their state senator.

I am planning one more town hall this summer, this one in conjunction with Rep. Jeannie Lauer. We will advertise that in our weekly e-mail as well as through the local papers.

District Activities

This week has been a busy week. In addition to holding two town hall meetings, I’m also meeting with Grain Valley’s Mayor Mike Todd and local businesses. In addition, I’ll be visiting with constituents John Baty, Charles Russell, and Mathew Harper. And as a member of the Senate Subcommittee on Emergency Response, I’ve learned a lot about natural disaster recovery during the two recent informative committee meetings.

Try to Dunk Me at Grain Valley!

Grain Valley is planning a celebration of Police and Community Partnerships next Tuesday, Aug 2. Remember those old-fashioned dunking tanks? I’ll be sitting above one at this event, and you will have the chance to put me under water. It will be held from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Armstrong Park in Grain Valley.

Sales Tax Holiday on School Supplies

During the weekend of Aug. 5-7, Missouri will hold its annual sales tax holiday on school supplies, as well as some electronics and clothing. That amounts to a 4.225 percent savings on qualifying purchases. In addition, sales taxes on these items will not be collected in Jackson County, Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, and all other municipalities in District 8. For more information, click here: Sales Tax Holiday.

Lichtenegger: Social Security and the Federal Budget, DNR Resources and Information

IMPORTANT Legislative Update

Most citizens do not realize the complexity of the federal Social Security system. You can visit the U.S. Treasury website and read about Social Security and the Federal Budget and learn about how the funds are obtained, handled and distributed. However, what you’ll not read are the details of what money is available for the government to continue to distribute the Social Security checks as usual. I wanted you to read the below article by Stanford Law Professor, Michael McConnell, as an incentive to call your U.S. Representative (Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson for most readers) and encourage them to put the pressure on the Administration to stop threatening to withhold funds due our senior citizens. Politics has its place, but it is not in the pockets of the elderly.

Contrary to Obama’s Scare Tactics, Social Security Checks are Not at Risk

The PJ Tatler ^ | July 23, 2011 | Belladonna Rogers

Posted on Saturday, July 23, 2011 9:48:40 PM by 2ndDivisionVet

In a clearly written analysis on the website of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, Stanford Law Professor Michael McConnell, the director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center and a Hoover senior fellow, corrects the president’s groundless threats:

In his Friday night press conference, for the second time, President Obama raised the specter that Social Security checks might not go out if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling. His words: “Well, when it comes to all the checks, not just Social Security — veterans, people with disabilities — about 70 million checks are sent out each month — if we default then we’re going to have to make adjustments. And I’m already consulting with Secretary Geithner in terms of what the consequences would be.” Earlier he said in an interview on CBS News: “I cannot guarantee that those [Social Security] checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue. Because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.”

He must not be consulting with his lawyers, because this attempt to scare Social Security recipients is without legal foundation.

As recently explained in much more detail by legal scholars Mark Scarberry and Nancy Altman, and by the aptly-named Thomas Saving, a former public trustee of the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, reaching the debt ceiling will not affect the ability of the Social Security Administration to pay its obligations.

The Social Security trust fund holds about $2.4 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds, which its trustees are legally entitled to redeem whenever Social Security is running a current account deficit. Thus, if we reach the debt ceiling (which I continue to think is a remote prospect, even if less remote than it seemed a week ago), this is what will happen. The Social Security trust fund will go to Treasury and cash in some of its securities, using the proceeds to send checks to recipients. Each dollar of debt that is redeemed will lower the outstanding public debt by a dollar. That enables the Treasury to borrow another dollar, without violating the debt ceiling. The debt ceiling is not a prohibition on borrowing new money; it is a prohibition on increasing the total level of public indebtedness. If Social Security cashes in some of its bonds, the Treasury can borrow that same amount of money from someone else.

To be sure, a small portion of the money due from Treasury to the trust fund on the bonds is accrued interest. Payment of this portion will not have an effect on the debt ceiling, because the ceiling is calculated according to amount borrowed, not amount to be paid. That amount, however, is too trivial to affect the bottom line. Interest rates are low, and interest was last paid at the end of June.

President Obama is therefore wrong when he says that failure to raise the debt ceiling might result in not sending out Social Security checks. Many bad things might happen, but not that.

Now that I’ve spoken my peace, let’s continue with our series on Missouri State Departments.

Knowing Your Missouri State Departments: #1 Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

#1.3 Resources and Information

The Department of Natural Resources –as with all state departments- has a mission statement which is “to protect, preserve and enhance Missouri's natural, cultural and energy resources. The department serves all the state's citizens through its involvement in environmental and resource-related issues of the day. The department deals with the critical area of energy; helps develop mineral resources in an environmentally safe manner; protects Missouri's land, air and water resources; and works to preserve the state's historic and natural heritage through state parks and state historic sites.”

To fulfill their mission they provide a variety of services to Missourians and other state departments, plus they work closely with the “matching” federal departments to ensure that natural state resources are developed and preserved. One of its finest avenues for meeting its obligation is through DNR Publications. Link to the webpage at left and you’ll find annual reports, permit manuals, fact sheets, brochures and much more. Be sure to use the drop-down menu to find your subject of interest.

Their Missouri Resources magazine (the hyperlink to the left is the magazine index) is published three times a year and is available to Missourians free of charge. Clink on the pictures below to view those issues:

Summer 2011 issue                                                Winter 2011 issue

A Regional Offices Map can assist you in locating any DNR services anywhere in the state. And the following link is to local information for Cape Girardeau and Perry Counties: (South) East Missouri Action Agency, Inc.

If you are in need of contact information for a variety of resources & information link below left to the DNR Directory of Services. For example if you are a school teacher and want to order educational materials for teaching soil and water conservation look up the contact information for Envirothon. And if you or someone you know, say in Joplin, has been a victim of a natural disaster you’ll want a contact list (link below right) that will help you zero in on the exact division to contact for your particular situation.

And there is assistance and information available for homeowners: link here for home Weatherization Assistance!

Teachers can order a variety of Educational Resources to enhance your classroom teaching.

Miscellaneous Notes

If you missed receiving the July 14 and/ or July 21, Capitol Report #1.1 DNR Overview and #1.2 State Parks and Historical Sites and would like a copy please contact me via email.

Nance: Special Session?

Missouri’s Republican legislative leaders traveled through Columbia, St. Louis, and Kansas City Wednesday to announce a proposed agenda for a potential Special Session to run concurrent with Veto Session. The proposal is similar to the package offered during the recent legislative session. It involves economic development packages and adjustments to many of our state’s tax credit programs. The package is intended to attract and enhance jobs for our state. This bill covers the Aerotropolis in St. Louis to bring in jobs and the retention of Missouri businesses which might intent to move to Kansas.

It also provides funding of Missouri Science and Reinvestment (MOSIRA) to attract science and innovative companies to Missouri. Language is provided to create more Data Centers for high tech next-generation IT jobs to the state.

There has been some discussion of tapping the”Rainy Day Fund” to cover many costs in Joplin. By law, the money used must be put back in the fund within a three year period.

Moving the date of Missouri’s presidential preference primary to March 6, from its currently scheduled February date was vetoed by the Governor because of other issues in SB 282. Both parties are threatening sanctions if the move isn't made. The Governor may request that we take that issue up in Special Session.

In the District

I continue to share my experiences with groups throughout the district and for constituents who encounter bureaucratic problems.

I attended a Senior Fair event for Clay County residents with Representative Jerry Nolte on July 9th and a Tri-County event for seniors at the Ray County Health Center on the 21st.

Congratulations to Carl and Eileen Looman on their 75th Wedding Anniversary July 23rd, and John and Kathy Goode were honored for their 50th Wedding Anniversary recently. I can provide a resolution from the state for that special anniversary for your loved ones.

There was plenty of heat, but the Ray County Fair provided an excellent opportunity for 4-H members to show their prize animals last week.

Denison: Eco Devo Agreement Reached, Disaster Funding Update, Road Work In District

“Every artist was once an amateur.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Agreement on Economic Development Package Reached; Special Session Likely

The biggest news out of Jefferson City in recent weeks has been the agreement reached by leaders in the Missouri House and Senate on a massive economic development package designed to bring new businesses and jobs to our state and to save our state approximately $1.5 billion over the next decade. It’s a piece of legislation the House passed multiple times during the regular session but failed to secure passage in the Senate. Now, the two bodies have worked together to reach a compromise that has widespread support. It now seems likely the governor will call us back for special session in September to pass this important bill.

One of the key components of the bill would authorize approximately $360 million tax credits to help turn Lambert Airport in St. Louis into an international cargo hub. The idea has support from legislators from all around the state because the creation of an international trade hub in our state would create an incredible increase in demand for all of the products and goods produced here in Missouri. It’s a plan that could create jobs not only in St. Louis but in every part of our great state.

The legislative package agreed to by House and Senate leaders also would include incentives to attract high-tech businesses, data centers and college sporting events. When taken in its entirety the bill contains some very powerful tools we believe will bring in new businesses, create high-paying jobs and provide a significant boost to our economy.

Other critical components to the compromise bill include numerous new accountability measures on existing economic development programs. The proposed reforms include capping the amount programs can spend and instituting a process of legislative renewal or mandatory reviews required by sunsets of programs of four to seven years. These renewals would require the programs to justify their value and economic impact to the full legislature or face automatic elimination. With these accountability measures in place we believe we can save the state approximately $1.5 billion over the next decade.

House Committee Calls on Governor to Include Disaster Relief Funding in Special Session Call

Another piece of news coming out of the Capitol this week is the recommendation of the Interim House Committee on Disaster Recovery to include disaster recovery as a topic of discussion in any special session the governor calls. Specifically, the committee wants the House and Senate to discuss the potential use of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to pay for disaster recovery. House Speaker Steven Tilley formed the committee to take a closer look at the state’s options to help areas devastated by tornadoes and flooding. After weeks of traveling around the state to take testimony, the committee has decided the issue should be a priority in any special session that may happen. Missouri is able to use up to $250 million from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for disaster recovery, but repayment has to begin in the next year with the total amount to be repaid in three years with interest. There is concern this could lead to further budget problems down the road. Because of these concerns, it’s an issue that needs to be discussed by the full legislature.

In the District

Following is the work being accomplished this week on some of the road construction projects in Springfield, the information is from MoDOT:

Route 60/65 Interchange Reconstruction, Springfield

  • Pouring concrete for bridge walls along eastbound Route 60 bridge over Lake Springfield and for the northbound Route 65 bridge over Route 60
  • Grading rock and dirt to build up areas for new westbound Route 60 bridge over railroad tracks
  • Building columns for new eastbound and westbound Route 60 bridges over railroad tracks west of Route 65
  • Paving shoulders along the new northbound lanes of Route 65

Route 65 Six-Laning Project, Springfield

  • Pouring concrete for median wall and paving shoulders between Kearney Street and I-44
  • Pouring concrete approaches to the bridge over Chestnut Expressway
  • Pouring concrete for approaches to the bridge over railroad tracks south of Chestnut Expressway

Campbell Avenue (Route 160/13) Six-Laning Project, Springfield

  • Pouring concrete for ramp widening and new pavement at Campbell Avenue/Route 60 (James River Freeway) interchange
  • Placing rock in ditch along Campbell Avenue at Lakewood Street

Weaver Road Relocation at Campbell Avenue (Route 160/13), Springfield

  • Hauling rock and dirt to raise elevation of Weaver Road west of Campbell Avenue
  • Periodic blasting rock and dirt on east side of Campbell Avenue north of Weaver Road
  • Relocating utility lines in areas

Interim Office Hours

Interim office hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Normal schedule will resume December 1, 2011. If you need to call me at home, my number is 417-887-3353.

I look forward to hearing from you. If you ever have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office. Best wishes.

26 July 2011

Dempsey: Balancing the Federal Budget: A “Show-Me State” Solution

For weeks now, the news out of Washington, D.C. has centered on attempts by Congress and the President to reach a compromise on raising our national debt limit – essentially the amount of money we are allowed to borrow to continue to operate the government. One side proposes more spending and higher taxes while the other attempts to extract promises of cuts to bloated federal programs. Giving urgency to these negotiations is the fear that the looming failure to meet our financial obligations will seriously undermine confidence in the economy.

While the details of the negotiations are often lost in the fog that seems to hover over Capitol Hill, this impasse points to one very obvious fact – it is high time to bring our runaway debt under control. The solution to this problem is to bring a healthy dose of common sense from the Show-Me State to Washington.

For many years, state legislators here in Jefferson City have been required by Missouri’s Constitution to balance our annual budget. If we run out of money, we tighten our belts and make cuts to programs. It’s that simple.

Unfortunately, the President and Congress are not bound by the same rules. When they run out of money, they just print more or write an “IOU” to be paid by future generations. For the sake of our nation’s health and stability, this kind of irresponsible spending must stop.

I am convinced that despite the political rhetoric, voluntary (i.e. superficial) budget cutting will not work. It is time that Washington adopt Missouri’s model of a balanced budget amendment that will require the federal government to live within its means.

I am pleased to say that some in Congress do understand our nation’s dire financial straits and are proposing just such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If this amendment were to pass both the U.S. House and Senate, it would need to be ratified by at least 38 of the 50 states. As I have mentioned before, I have written to the sponsors of this legislation in the U.S. Senate to let them know I will work to secure its ratification here in Missouri.

Also, when the Missouri General Assembly reconvenes in January, I intend to sponsor an official resolution calling on Congress to send the states a balanced budget amendment so that we can quickly ratify and put it into effect.

It is important that balance be brought to our national budget. The current levels of federal spending and borrowing cannot be sustained. Rather than sit idly by as our children and grandchildren are saddled with mounting levels of debt, we must take action to bring some common-sense reform to Washington.

I always appreciate hearing from you. If you have any questions about the topic discussed above, or any other issues, please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Lant: Meetings In Jeff City, Joint Resolution On Religious Freedom, McDonald County Fair Recap

Wow, what a busy week! I hardly know where to start. I drove to Jeff City Sunday afternoon to get an early start on Monday's Interim Work Group. I had agreed to host the meeting and I wanted to be sure everything was going to be smooth. We began at 9:00 A.M. with a series of presentations by the Director of Mental Health, Department of Health and Senior Services, and Department of Social Services. Each director was to make a presentation on their departments' duties and responsibilities followed by a question and answer session. I asked each of the directors to address four questions.
  1. How many employees do you have now compared to a year ago?
  2. What groups or individuals do you serve?
  3. What changes have been made to your budgets over the past several years?
  4. What is your perception of the impact of Obama care now and in the future?
We had a very informative day and a half. There was a two fold purpose for our meetings. First off, we were able to get factual information from the departments that will help us to make better decisions on appropriations and future legislation, but just as importantly, we were able to ask questions in an informal setting where both we and the department heads were able to get a better understanding of what the impact of our budgets would be on the people who are being served.

Our next Interim Work Group will take up Workforce Development issues and is planned for mid August.

Last Session Representative Mike McGhee invited me and many others to co sponsor HJR2. This Joint Resolution was an effort to place on the ballot a religious liberty amendment. The central provision of this amendment is a constitutional guarantee that students have the right to pray and express their religious beliefs on a voluntary basis in the public schools. The amendment also assures adult citizens and elected officials the right to pray and acknowledge God on public property and governmental premises. It also protects the right of government bodies to invite ministers and clergypersons to offer invocations before government meetings. It also requires a copy of the Bill of Rights be posted in every public school in Missouri. This legislation was approved by a vote of 126 to 30 in the House and by a unanimous vote of 34 to 0 in the Senate. Please be prepared for attempts by the ACLU to confuse the issue. My prediction is that Missouri voters will overwhelmingly approve this legislation!

Last week Missouri House and Senate leaders came to agreement on a comprehensive jobs agreement. The economic development bill includes an International trade hub proposal for St. Louis Airport, incentives for Data Centers to locate in our state, funds to help Kansas City retain jobs, new job training programs, a Science and Innovation Reinvestment act to help attract high tech industries, and incentives to attract sporting events and the large economic impact they bring with them. The effort to call a special session to deal with economic issues and the over 9% unemployment we have in Missouri was helped by the Governor who, after hearing about the Senate and House announcement, called a press conference and jumping on the bandwagon by calling for a special session. We should have the opportunity to deal with this bill in August or September.

We ended our fun filled week at the McDonald County Fair. It really doesn't matter how hot it is at the fair, you can have plenty of fun and see some really great livestock and exhibits. I will never grow tired of watching the young people show their animals. They put an amazing amount of time and effort into raising their animals, preparing them to show and training them to lead just right. My favorite story of the week was the 7 year old exhibitor whose pig jumped out of the truck on the way to the fair. Naturally he was very upset, he even thought the pig was dead, but after reviving him, they went on to show him and despite some road rash, he placed second! I don't care who you are, that's a great story! Congratulations to everyone who put up with the heat and dust; now start getting ready for next year.

Until next week, I am and remain in your service.