Pace Quickens in Second Week of Legislative Session
While the action hasn't moved to the House floor yet, the second week of session has brought with it an increased level of activity at the committee level. The debate in the House Chamber tends to produce passionate debate and memorable sound bites but it's in committee where bills are deliberated and fine-tuned until they're ready for discussion by the entire body. That's the mode we're in right now as our committees work on many bills on a multitude of issues in preparation for the coming weeks of floor debate.
House Committee Approves Measure to Stabilize Government Spending (HJR 43)
With the intent of stabilizing spending and eliminating the boom and bust budget years we have seen, the House Budget Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit future increases in state spending. The proposal would put in place a spending cap on state general revenue, which is the money over which the legislature has the most discretion. This appropriations growth limit would be based on the rate of inflation plus the growth in population. In essence, a budget would be capped at the previous year’s budget plus the appropriations growth limit. With this limit in place, we can ensure government doesn’t grow at a level that isn’t sustainable. We also know that studies have shown a government with a stable tax rate and stable expenditures will see more economic growth and more stable growth because of the confidence that stability gives employers. It’s an idea that makes up one of the pillars of the Speaker’s Blueprint for Missouri and something we will certainly see move through the House quickly this session. If it makes it through both chambers, the proposal would go before a vote of the people.
House Education Appropriations Committee Looks at Funding Formula Fix (HB 1043)
One of the most important issues we will deal with this year involves the way our state's many public schools are funded. Right now we're in the midst of a multi-year phase in of the school foundation formula that began in 2006 and will be complete next year. The formula was designed to eliminate the disparities that had existed in the previous funding mechanism that was based on the property tax base of each school district. That system led to some school districts being very wealthy with others being less fortunate. The new foundation formula implemented a funding system based on the needs of each student. When passed in 2005, the idea was to ensure each student in the state received the amount needed to receive a quality education. The idea also was to gradually increase that amount each and every year over a seven-year period.
The foundation formula wasn't an issue until recent years when our state's budget woes prevented us from providing the level of funding called for in the formula. As we found we could not meet the demands of the formula, it became necessary to explore how to fairly distribute the monies that were available. Specifically, the issue stems from the concept of “hold harmless” school districts, which are districts that were receiving more funding than was called for with the new formula but were promised they would not receive a funding cut. With slightly more than 150 of Missouri's more than 500 school districts “hold harmless” it has represented a significant challenge as the legislature has been unable to fund the formula fully. The bottom line is that right now we have all districts, both those that have seen increases in funding under the formula and those who have had their funding frozen, sharing in the pain of reduced funding. That’s why we’re considering legislation this year to make the reduced funding more equitable for all schools. It's a challenge I hope we can work together to solve so that we can “share the pain” in a way that's fair for every school district in the state.
House Committee Approves Legislation to Increase Government Transparency and Accountability (HB 1140)
The House Committee on Downsizing State Government met this week to discuss and approve legislation that would provide an additional level of transparency for the spending habits of county governments and public schools. It's something that has worked well at the state level where the Missouri Accountability Portal that provides updated information to the public on how their tax dollars are being utilized by state government. We want to carry that success through to the local level by requiring counties and schools to provide similar information that will be accessible through the accountability portal.
The idea is to avoid a problem similar to the one seen in Cook County, Illinois where residents there were stunned to learn about the massive debt the county had incurred. In total, there was more than $108 billion in debt that amounted to more than $60,000 in debt per household. While we are confident there are no examples that extreme in Missouri, it's still a good idea to fully disclose the information so the public is not left out in the dark. To take a closer look at how it works on a state level I encourage you to visit the accountability portal at mapyourtaxes.mo.gov.
On Monday, January 9th, Dr. Lynn Herndon stopped by my office. Dr. Herndon is with the Missouri Optometric Association, and later in the day the association held a reception where members and legislators were able to discuss legislative matters for the 2012 session.
On Wednesday, January 11th, Dr. John Lilly was in the Capitol to serve as Physician for the Day for the House of Representatives. Dr. Lilly stopped by my office along with Ken Hurley of Billings, Missouri. While at the Capitol, Dr. Lilly was also providing to all representatives a video on the foundation of the Locke and Smith Award and the process of determining the winners of the Locke and Smith Award for 2012.
Pictured left to right: Dr. John Lilly, Ken Hurley, Representative Denison
I look forward to hearing from you, and if you will be in Jefferson City, please stop by my office. If you ever have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office. Best wishes.