Governor Delivers Annual State of the State Address
Members of the House and Senate gathered in the House Chamber Tuesday night to listen to Governor Jay Nixon give his annual State of the State Address. Much like the president’s State of the Union Address, the governor’s speech is used to outline his policy agenda for the upcoming session. Tuesday’s speech was highlighted by the governor reaffirming our commitment to balancing the budget without increasing the tax burden on Missouri families. It’s something we all can agree on regardless of party affiliation and despite the fact it represents an incredible challenge to balance the budget in a year where we face a funding shortfall of more than $500 million.
The governor did call for increased funding for K-12 education and described his funding proposal as a record level of funding for our public schools. While that sounds good in a speech, the reality is his proposed budget would provide an increase of only $5 million to the approximately $3 billion in basic aid for public K-12 schools. That amounts to just $5.88 in additional state aid per pupil and still falls short of what is recommended by the funding formula by approximately $472 million. The governor also called for a 12.5 percent cut to higher education. The cut would leave funding for our public colleges and universities at its lowest level in years. These are issues that obviously cause concern as we look at crafting a budget this year. One of the pillars of our Blueprint of Missouri is based on improving our system of education to give our young people the best possible opportunity for future success. Bridging our funding gap on the back of our education system is not something that will gain much support in the legislature. I will keep you updated on this issue as the session progresses and we look for ways to balance our budget without forcing our schools to pay the price.
House Approves Spending Limit Proposal
I mentioned in my previous report a spending limit proposal that would control the growth of government spending in the future. The proposed constitutional amendment [HJR43] came to the floor this week where the House gave it overwhelming approval. The proposal would use the 2008 fiscal year, which saw $8 billion in general revenue spent, as a baseline. From year to year increases in the size in the budget would then be limited to 1.5 percent of the previous year’s revenues plus an amount based on the rate of inflation plus the growth in population. With this, we allow the budget to grow at a healthy yet predictable and stable level each year.
Another concern members had with putting a spending limit in place focused on the impact such a limit might have on education funding. With our K-12 education system currently underfunded, we want to make certain future legislatures can adequately increase funding for our public schools. An amendment added on the House floor would allow funds dedicated to the school foundation formula to exceed the appropriations limit. With this, we would allow one of our most vital funding areas to catch up to the funding it deserves without fear of conflicting with the spending cap.
If approved by both chambers, the proposal would go before a vote of the people.
New District Maps Called into Question
Also this week, the Missouri Supreme Court threw out the maps that define the new boundaries for Missouri’s 34 Senate districts. The court also ordered further review of the new congressional district boundaries that were created by the Missouri General Assembly. This news comes at a time when we are just weeks away from candidates filing for office. With the maps now in question, it creates a great deal of uncertainty for anyone seeking any of these positions. The court has ordered a trial judge to make a ruling on the congressional districts by Feb. 3. For the senate districts, the process will start over with a new 10-member bipartisan citizens’ commission. When the process began the first time, the commission failed to agree on a map, which led to a panel of appellate judges being tasked with creating the map. The judges found it just as difficult to provide a map that follows the guidelines of the Missouri Constitution with the first map they created being called into question and the second map now being ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. It goes to show how difficult it is to create these maps when the judiciary itself cannot abide by our Constitution. We’ll see what the new citizen commission can come up with and how the trial judge will rule on the congressional districts in the coming weeks. It’s my hope the trial judge will find the new congressional map we created to be constitutional.
Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight Meets
The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight met twice this week to discuss options for I-70. The intention of the meeting was to hear discussion on rebuilding I-70. The director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, Kevin Keith, reminded the committee that I-70 is nearly 60 years old and was designed to last twenty to twenty-five years. The committee heard from twenty-two individuals that testified, and the information and ideas brought to the committee will be helpful for the Department of Transportation and for legislators as a decision is made on how to move forward.
On Wednesday January 18, 2012, Don Akers and Swaine Marsh stopped by my office to discuss legislative matters for the 2012 session. Mr. Akers and Ms. Swaine were at the Capitol with the Greater Springfield Board of Realtors.
Also on Wednesday, January 18th, I met with Jodie Adams and Linda Dollar, representatives of the Community Olympic Development Program, Springfield, Missouri. The Greater Springfield COPD is operated under the City of Springfield and Greene County through the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. Jodie Adams, Linda Dollar, Joseph Cox, the Legislative Coordinator with the Missouri Department of Revenue, and I met concerning a legislation proposal for a U.S. Olympic special license plate.
Pictured left to right in the House Chamber: Jodie Adams, Rep. Denison, Linda Dollar, Joseph Cox
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.