This week marks the midway point of the 2011 legislative session. As in previous years, I am expecting a flurry of activity as we move towards the final days (the last day of the 2011 session is May 13). Much of our work during the second half will also be focused on crafting the state budget, which, as I have discussed in previous columns, will be no easy task this year.
Since this week is the annual spring recess, I thought it might be a good opportunity to catch you up on the progress of some of the key legislation moving through the process so far.
Focusing on Job Creation
This year, I was honored to be named the chairman of the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee. Much of my own legislation this year has been focused on job creation and making sure Missouri’s business environment is competitive with our neighbors. Some of these bills include:
Senate Bill 19, which is one of the first pieces of legislation to be approved by the Senate and sent to the House for consideration. The bill would cap and ultimately phase out Missouri’s outdated corporate franchise tax. With the passage of this legislation, our state would be more competitive with our neighbors and would end the double taxation we currently impose on businesses that already pay income, sales, and property taxes. The bill was sent to the House in mid-February and was approved by a House committee earlier this month.
Senate Bill 146, which would provide an income tax deduction for business income, benefiting companies of all sizes throughout the state. After the legislation is fully phased in, the tax relief measure would give Missouri one of the lowest effective tax rates for businesses in the nation. The deduction would apply to all businesses reporting income on individual returns, including corporation income tax returns. This legislation was approved by the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee on February 16.
Senate Bill 189, which is an effort to encourage job creation at the site of the former Chrysler plant in Fenton. The bill would make changes to the existing Missouri Quality Jobs Act to make it easier for companies that might be interested in the site to utilize the program. This site could be valuable to a variety of industries and the incentives are designed to be flexible and apply to any company within the requirements. The incentives would not be available to the company until the investment is made and jobs are created. The bill was approved by the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee on March 9.
Senate Bill 296, which would establish the Compete Missouri Job Training Program, which would combine three existing job training programs that provide financial assistance for job training for new jobs created by qualified companies. Financial assistance would also be available to business and technology centers established by Missouri community colleges, or state technical colleges, to provide business and training services for growth industries. The bill was heard in the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee on March 2.
· Senate Bill 390, the Aerotropolis Trade Incentive and Tax Credit Act, which would allow the state to take advantage of one of our most important assets — our location — being in the Center of the Center. The measure would help redirect much of the freight currently moving through Chicago to St. Louis by providing an incentive for freight forwarders. The bill also has provisions to put the infrastructure in place to make St. Louis an international trade hub for the long term. The legislation has the potential to change the trajectory of the economy not just for our region, but the entire state. The bill was heard in the Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee on March 16 and was voted out of committee 9-0.
Supporting New Home Construction
I am sponsoring Senate Bill 108 this year, which would extend a provision originally approved by the Legislature to promote consumer choice and keep home building prices in this tough real estate market from increasing.
The 2009 International Residential Code would have mandated the installation of fire sprinklers in all newly constructed homes. That year, the General Assembly passed a measure requiring home builders to offer buyers an option for the installation of fire sprinklers, allowing the consumer the choice to install or decline to install fire sprinkler systems. Senate Bill 108 would extend the current law until Dec. 31, 2019. The legislation has already passed the Senate and was heard in the House General Laws Committee on March 8.
Senate Begins the Task of Redistricting
With the census completed and detailed population data released, Missouri is now in the process of redistricting. Even with a 7 percent increase in population, our state’s growth was not as much as others, and we will lose a congressional seat this year. Reshaping the map of our congressional districts to reflect the change from 9 seats to 8 is a task completed by the Legislature.
The Senate Select Committee on Redistricting recently held several public meetings throughout the state to get feedback from citizens on their views about the redistricting process. The committee will now start working on a map that will be presented to the Legislature for approval. We must approve the new congressional district map by the end of session. Drawing the new districts for the state House and Senate will be assigned to two bipartisan commissions appointed by the governor.
Funding Our Schools
Tough financial times have led to spending reductions across the board in our state, but we are determined to protect our schools from facing severe reductions in state dollars. One of the greatest investments we can make is in the future of our children. Classrooms are funded on a state level on a per pupil basis through the state’s Foundation Funding Formula. In 2005, the Legislature approved a new formula to fund schools that set up a phase-in schedule that was supposed to last for seven years. However, the creators of the formula did not foresee these tough fiscal times. Last year, we were able to make sure this K-12 classroom funding remained stable and did not see a decrease. This goal to fund our school districts at the same level as the previous year will continue this year.
One aspect of funding that complicates the process is how “hold-harmless” school districts are often treated in the Formula. We have several of these districts in the 15th Senatorial District, like Kirkwood, Parkway, Lindbergh, Valley Park, etc. I will fight any efforts to balance our budget on the backs of hold harmless school districts. We need to make sure our local school districts get their fair share of funding and are not treated inequitably.