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20 January 2012

Engler: Working Towards a Balanced Budget

Committee work continued in the Senate this week. I’m chairman of the Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee, and we’ve already heard four bills in our committee. We now have 25 bills to consider, with the possibility of more assigned later. I’m also a member of the Veterans’ Affairs, Emerging Issues, Pensions and Urban Affairs Committee, and we considered Senate Bill 478 this week, which would eliminate retirement benefits and insurance coverage for all members of the General Assembly elected after Jan. 1, 2013.

I think there’s a misconception that state legislators enjoy the same type of generous benefits as federal elected officials. This isn’t the case. We are called to be citizen legislators and many state legislators have full time jobs outside of this one. However, as we examine cuts to many state departments and programs, it’s only fair we turn the budgetary scissors on the legislative branch.

The governor gave his annual State of the State address on Tuesday evening. He highlighted many of the priorities we’ve been working towards in the Senate. He also outlined his budget proposal, which may have provided some good sound bites, but upon closer look, seems questionable at best.

As in years past, the governor’s budget recommendations for the next fiscal year depend on new legislation, never a wise idea. His proposal includes $52 million of revenue to be generated by a tax amnesty plan that has yet to pass, and $64 million from enhanced debt collections by the Department of Revenue.

We debated a similar tax amnesty plan twice on the Senate floor last year, and despite wide support, were unable to pass it. If the same happens again this year, we’ve got yet another hole in our budget plan to try and fill. I also question if we can collect over a $100 million in revenue from people who already aren’t paying their taxes. I’m afraid the governor’s proposal contains unrealistic expectations and empty hopes we’re going to have to fix as we continue the appropriations process.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a lawsuit that seeks to have the new Senate district maps thrown out. The new maps were drawn to reflect population changes shown by the 2010 census. The duty fell to an appellate commission in 2011, as a public commission was unable to submit a new map before the deadline.

The lawsuit before the Missouri Supreme Court claimed the new maps violate the Missouri Constitution by splitting counties among districts. When objections were raised about this back in November, the commission released a revised map 10 days later. The lawsuit says this was also illegal.

This week the Missouri Supreme Court ruled the new Senate maps be thrown out. There were definitely issues with the new district maps, and I’m glad the court recognized this. Now, the governor will have to appoint a new public commission to start the redistricting process all over again. This is all unprecedented and has left a fair amount of confusion. Political candidates don’t know where they’ll be running, and citizens don’t know who represents them or what district they’ll fall in. It’s chaos and there’s little to do now but wait and see.

I will continue to keep you updated on all important events taking place in the Capitol as the session moves forward.

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