The 2016 session of the Missouri legislature began this week, and it promises to be an interesting year. While some bills are already making national news for all the wrong reasons, there are a lot of real challenges facing the state and real work to be done. Priorities range from the immediate – such as providing assistance to Missouri flood victims, and resolving the driver’s license debacle – to longer term goals like adequately funding transportation projects, expanding Medicaid access, and improving Missouri’s public school system.
Taking on these challenges won’t be easy, but I remain hopeful we’ll make progress… eventually. I look forward to keeping you updated about the Capitol in 2016. Thank you for taking the time to read!
UPDATES FROM THE CAPITOL
Transportation, ethics seen as top 2016 issues
The need for ethics reform comes as a top priority as two lawmakers, including the Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, resigned last year after inappropriate dealings with legislative interns became public. Bills seeking to address ethical problems existing in the current political environment in Jefferson City have been introduced many times in past legislative sessions but have never made it into law.
Bills expected to be considered include banning lobbyist gifts to lawmakers and imposing a waiting period on lawmakers becoming lobbyists after leaving office. The top goal for Democrats on the subject – reinstating campaign contribution limits – is opposed by the Republican majority. Missouri voters first imposed contribution limits by voting overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition A in 1994, but in 2008 the state legislature overturned that law and eliminated the limits altogether. As a result, Missouri is the only state in the nation that allows both unlimited lobbyist gifts and unlimited campaign contributions.
Transportation funding will again be a major issue this legislative session. The Missouri Department of Transportation’s annual construction awards have dropped sharply from a high of nearly $1.37 billion in FY2009 to $596 million for FY2016 — the current fiscal year.
Governor Nixon has said he supports a bill filed for the 2016 legislative session by State Senator Doug Libla, (R, Poplar Bluff), which would increase the state excise tax on gasoline by 1.5 cents per gallon while bumping the levy on diesel by 3.5 cents per gallon. Missouri’s taxes on gasoline and diesel have not increased in nearly 20 years and are among the lowest in the nation at 17 cents per gallon.
Tax amnesty raises $35 million for health care
$35 million was generated last year due to a tax amnesty program enacted by HB384, which allowed delinquent taxpayers a one-time opportunity to pay their delinquent taxes they owed without incurring penalties.
HB384 allowed the state to expand dental benefits to around 282,000 low-income Missourians for the latter half of the current fiscal year, and allowed for a 1% bump in rates for health care providers who serve Medicaid beneficiaries.
FY2016 state revenue growth slows to 2.6%
Although net state general revenue collections increased 2.6% during the first half of the 2016 fiscal year compared to the same period in FY2015 — going from $4.06 billion last year to $4.17 billion this year – this is behind the 4.2% growth the state had seen ahead of the previous fiscal year through the first five months of FY2016.
Net general revenue collections for December 2015 decreased by 3.6% compared to those for December 2014, going from $841.1 million to $810.7 million.