Friday, October 21, 2011

Engler: We didn't do much and we probably won't do much next year

In his latest newsletter, Rep.Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, offers a realistic and highly unflattering description of the special session.

There was little accomplished this special session, a session that probably shouldn’t have been called in the first place. It was all good and well for legislative leaders to tour the state in July, promising the passage of an economic development bill, but they failed to let the rest of the General Assembly in on their plan.

When we convened in early September, we were presented with a massive bill few of us were familiar with that would have serious consequences for the future of our state. This led to weeks of debate in the beginning of the special session, where from most perspectives it probably looked like we were accomplishing nothing in the Capitol. It was a slow and painful process to watch, and even more so for those of us who participated in it.

Through compromise, however, the Senate was able to pass a tax credit reform and economic development bill that was fiscally responsible and would have gone far in creating good jobs for Missouri. The Senate remained committed to making sure we could pay for our legislation by putting caps and sunsets on two of the most costly, and ineffective, tax credit programs in the state, the Low-Income Housing and Historic Preservation tax credits. Our legislation would have saved taxpayers nearly $1 billion over the next 15 years, a necessary move if we’re going to avoid making painful cuts to our budget in the future.

The Legislature also failed to address the problem of Missouri’s presidential primary. Earlier this year, the national political parties mandated Missouri move its primary back from February to March or risk losing the number of our convention delegates.

It is imperative Missouri citizens have a voice in deciding who their presidential candidate will be. During the regular session, I sponsored Senate Bill 282, which, among other things, would have moved our primary back to comply with the national party guidelines. It was vetoed by the governor.

We approached the topic again during the special session, but legislation wasn’t passed before the Oct. 1 deadline set out by the national Democratic and Republican parties to move the date of the primary. In response, the state’s Republican Party chose to move to a caucus system to avoid having our number of delegates cut back.

Although I supported moving the primary back, at this point, the decision is moot, as we are picking our delegates through a caucus system. So, I sponsored an amendment to House Bill 3 that would have eliminated the primary this year and then returned Missouri to the primary election system in 2016, saving our state from spending money we can’t afford on an election that will decide nothing.

The amendment came down to a tie vote on the Senate floor, resulting in a deadlock. This February, Missouri citizens will vote in a primary election that will mean absolutely nothing, as Missouri’s delegates for the national convention will be picked by a caucus process. Yet the state will spend approximately $8 million on a primary that is, by most accounts, completely pointless, and the citizens of Missouri have another example of legislative leaders not having a plan, or a consensus, on how to approach the issues facing our state. And the taxpayers pay the price, both literally and figuratively.

We are anticipating about half a billion dollars in cuts next session, so some of these issues may be separated out and looked at again

In the next few months, I will be putting together legislation to file for next year’s regular session, but if we can’t have a clear plan and better consensus then it might not even be worth it.

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