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16 January 2012

Oxford: Can't Budget-Cut Our Way To Prosperity

The 96th Missouri General Assembly convened its second regular session on Jan. 4 and will continue through May 18. Elected leaders calling for yet another round of deep budget cuts while offering a fairly modest legislative agenda, perhaps due to uncertainty that still marks relationships between the GOP majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives following the failed Special Session of 2011.

This is a bittersweet time for me as I enter my eighth and final year in the House of Representatives (due to term-limits). I am currently circulating more than a dozen bills and resolutions for co-sponsor signatures and will file most before the end of January. In my next newsletter I will include a link to a summary of this proposed legislation.

Major Issues of the 2012 Legislative Session

  • Budget - With no federal recovery/stimulus funds expected to relieve Missouri budget woes, and with House and Senate leaders vowing to block any attempt to increase revenue through tobacco tax increases or other commonsense strategies, a budget shortfall of $550-800 million is anticipated. (For more detail, see: Since Missouri must balance its budget by state constituent, that leaves no alternative but to cut crucial programs that serve our state.
  • Job Creation - Unemployment has been sliding down, but many of our neighbors are still out of work. Various "economic incentive packages" failed in both regular session and special session in 2011. Undoubtedly, we will see many of them again in 2012. I am pleased to have been named to the Special Standing Committee on Government Accountability and Oversight which is trying to ascertain why so many of our tax credit programs have performed less well than anticipated. With almost three-quarters of a billion in tax credits being authorized annually, if these were the key to a vibrant economy, one would think Missouri would be near full employment by now.
  • Education Funding Problem - This is the year that the "new formula law" that passed in 2005 was supposed to be fully phased in, increasing funding for many school districts. However, the General Assembly has not managed to keep pace with the new formula, and many legislators are now promising yet another re-write. I voted against the new formula in 2005 because it seemed to me that the real problem was that we were not adequately funding the old formula. I hope advocates throughout the state will now call for Missouri to address its inadequate revenue problem instead of constantly moving the targets, often at the detriment of the well-being of our communities. After all, when the state fails to adequately fund education in order to keep a "no new taxes pledge," in reality we are simply punting the tax hike to local districts where bond issues often go on the local ballot.
  • Students Transfers - State law allows students whose home school districts lose their state accreditation to transfer to the accredited district of their choice in the same or an adjacent county, with their "home" district obligated to pay tuition to "receiving" districts. After the St. Louis Public Schools lost its accreditation, however, suburban districts in St. Louis County refused to accept transfer students, but, in 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that transfer law means what it says. Now that the Kansas City School District has lost its accreditation, there will be a bigger push to rewrite the law to allow districts the discretion to refuse transfers from unaccredited districts. Such changes are expected to be fiercely opposed by school choice advocates.
  • I-70 Toll Road - The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) will ask lawmakers to approve a plan to allow a private contractor to lease I-70, rebuild it, and recoup their investment by operating a toll road. It is not clear if this plan could clear constitutional hurdles in court or the lukewarm reception it is receiving from our governor and lawmakers.
  • The Everything Tax - Republican lawmakers are again expected to pursue a proposed constitutional amendment to eliminate Missouri’s income tax and replace it with a substantially higher sales tax on nearly all goods and services.The everything tax would shift the state’s tax burden from the wealthy to the poor and middle class and also could bankrupt the state since higher sales tax isn’t expected to cover lost revenue.
  • Sexual Abuse Reporting - Attorney General Chris Koster is asking the General Assembly to enact a law that would require any person who witnesses the sexual abuse of a child to report it to authorities or face criminal prosecution for failing to do so. (This is partly in response to the Penn State scandal.)
Can't Budget Cut Our Way to Prosperity
It should be obvious by now that Missouri cannot simply continue to cut the budget year after year. Those who serve persons with disabilities, senior citizens, children, veterans, and other vulnerable populations have already squeezed every drop out of every penny of state funding. There is no "pork" left to trim in almost every area of state government; we have gone past bone into muscle and tendons. We are currently $4 billion below the Hancock revenue caps. Surely it is time to raise the tobacco tax to near the national average (we are at 17 cents per pack, and the national average is $1.46) and to collect sales tax that is owed on internet sales. Let the following leaders know that you support raising the tobacco tax and the "Main Street Fairness Act" (to level the playing field between bricks and mortar stores and online sales):
  • Gov. Jay Nixon - constituent{dot}services{at}mo{dot}gov, 573-751-3222 - The State of the State speech is Tuesday evening, January 17, so let the governor know your thoughts immediately.
  • President Pro Tem of the MO Senate Rob Mayer - rob{dot}mayer{at}senate{dot}mo{dot}gov, 573-751-3859
  • Speaker of the House Steven Tilley - steven{dot}tilley{at}house{dot}mo{dot}gov, 573-751-1488
  • Chairman of the Budget Committee Ryan Silvey - ryan{dot}silvey{at}house{dot}mo{dot}gov, 573-751-5282
For more information, see:

Community Announcements

  • Missourians for Single Payer invites us to hear Dr. John E. Morley of St. Louis University Medical Center speak on "Why Can't America Be More Like France?" (France ranks at the top in healthcare quality worldwide.) The program is at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 19, in the Hanke Room of the Ethical Society, 9001 Clayton Road (west of Brentwood). Enter from the rear parking lot, and the Hanke Room is just inside the west end door.
  • Thanks to a partnership between the Missouri Department of Mental Health, the Missouri Foundation for Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Pathways, Mental Health First Aid courses will be made available to faith communities throughout Missouri. On February 4-5, 2012, Epiphany United Church of Christ (UCC) in Benton Park, 2911 McNair, will host a twelve-hour training with these goals: 1) Increase participants’ knowledge about common mental illnesses; and 2) Train participants to assess a situation and gently guide affected individuals toward ongoing professional help. The training hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4, and 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5. Thanks to grants and collaboration, there is no cost to receive the Mental Health First Aid training, but attendance is capped at 25, so registration is required. Lunch will be provided on Saturday as well as beverages and snacks on both days. Call 314-775-8940 or e-mail epiphanyucc{dot}1{at}juno{dot}com to request a registration form.
  • Many of my constituents and supporters are progressives and will enjoy these new resources from Progress Missouri: 1) High Five at Five emails. A evening clip service with the top stories in Missouri politics sent out every weekday around 5pm. To sign up, e-mail 2) messaging and research hub. Check often for updates and info. 3) text messaging service. Sign up by texting MOLEG to 30644.
  • Music is a major part of my self-care and soul-refreshment. This Saturday night, Jan. 21, a wonderful singer/songwriter, Lydia Ruffin, will perform at Epiphany UCC, 2911 McNair, Benton Park, from 5-7 p.m. with her band Mayor Taylor and special guest Peter Ruthenburg. A flyer for that event is attached. The refreshment break will include the opportunity to win fun raffle prizes, including a sweatshirt autographed by Sheryl Crow, Missouri native and rock star.
  • Another musical event, but this one I'll miss due to being in Jefferson City - The St. Louis Low Brass Collective performs at the Sheldon Concert Hall (on Washington just west of Grand) on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted, and a reception will follow.
  • April Ford Griffin, Director of the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency for the City of St. Louis, will be the guest speaker at the Sunday, Jan. 22 meeting of Stonewall Democrats of Eastern Missouri. The meeting will begin at 3 p.m. at the Obama campaign headquarters at 1925 Washington. (There is no fee for parking at meters on Sundays.) Please come learn what the City of St. Louis is doing to fight discrimination against LGBT residents and to promote equality.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Birthday Celebration

As a friend says, MLK's Birthday is not a day off; it's a day on. It's a day on practicing gratitude for all who fought/fight to win equality. It's day on to speak out and stand up for racial and economic justice. Happy Birthday, dear Martin. Thank you for being a major inspiration and influence in my life.


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