Saturday, June 29, 2013
Ed Emery: The legislature did a good job this year
Personal perspective is critical in measuring the success of a legislative session. Another way to say the same thing is that where you start is important in determining where you end up. I agree with Abraham Lincoln that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people [should] not perish from the earth.” The perspective from which I approach governing is that individual liberty and economic freedom are evidence of good government, and they are a threat to bad government. One axiom of politics is that where you are is not as important as where you are going; such is the substance of compromise. Some of what I characterize as successes of the 2013 legislative session are very small advances in the right direction. Here are some of the most notable accomplishments of this year’s session.
Tax reform and the first tax reduction in decades: House Bill 253 establishes the Broad-Based Tax Relief Act of 2013, which would have lowered by .5 percent over a 10-year timeframe the personal state income tax and the corporate state income tax. This was a measure that encouraged more jobs and a healthier economy and would’ve put Missouri in a more competitive stance against our border states. The bill was vetoed by the governor, but lawmakers will continue to advocate for tax reform to bring more jobs to Missouri.
Workers’ compensation and Second Injury Fund reform: The Legislature sent to the governor a bill (SB 1) to fix the currently insolvent Second Injury Fund, a fund originally created to protect employers who chose to hire workers who had been injured in the military. The Second Injury Fund suffered from a combination of abuse and the effects of the recession that impacted Missouri and the nation. Thousands of Missourians are currently awaiting settlements. This bill will help those most in need, making the state more competitive.
Prevailing wage reform: This year, the Legislature made the first significant change in prevailing wage laws in 40 years. Missouri’s prevailing wage law establishes a minimum wage rate that must be paid to workers on public works construction projects such as bridges, roads, and government buildings. Missouri’s prevailing wage is calculated by the Division of Labor Standards and uses data on the wages paid for occupations in each county to set the rate contractors are paid on public works projects. Nearly 70 percent of Missouri counties don’t have any wages reported. In those cases, the system looks to collective bargaining agreements, sometimes including different states or previous reported wages, which usually inflates the rate taxpayers pay. Currently, the rates for projects in our rural communities are too high, thus forcing jobs to be eliminated and important projects in rural communities to be abandoned. House Bill 34 would establish a new method for calculating the prevailing wage for third and fourth class counties to ensure jobs and projects continue in rural areas.
Progress on revising Missouri’s Criminal Code: Updating Missouri’s Criminal Code is a top priority in the Senate. Although Criminal Code legislation wasn’t ultimately sent to the governor, it remains a central topic at the Capitol. Officials have studied the Criminal Code for the past couple years in an effort to better streamline state laws, which have been muddled over the past 30 years by continuously adding, amending, and omitting provisions in the Criminal Code. After the 2012 legislative session, the Joint Interim Committee on the Missouri Criminal Code was formed to make recommendations to improve the effectiveness of Missouri’s criminal laws. The panel crafted a report of recommendations and testimony, and this session’s SB 253 details several proposals for moving Missouri’s criminal laws forward.
Some successes are measured in what could have happened, but was prevented. Although substantive reform of Missouri’s complicated system of tax credits was not accomplished, no new credits were implemented and two existing tax credits were allowed to expire — this has never happened before, and in my perspective, signals a positive change of direction regarding tax credits. From the individual liberty and economic freedom perspective, two additional successes included the failure of Medicaid expansion attempts and failure of an attempt to raise Missouri taxes by more than $800 million a year for 10 years. If the prosperity of future generations and our own is an objective, then stopping both of those initiatives was absolutely critical.
In a free republic, politics are not permanent — in other words, laws imposed this year can be repealed the next and vice versa, but setbacks of this session included the failure of Senate Bill 210 on the last day. It would have slowed the race by the Department of Education and the governor to impose the Common Core curriculum on Missouri children as a national curriculum standard. Go to www.moagainstcommoncore.com for more information supporting why most Missourians will not be happy about what is about to happen in the realm of public education without their knowledge.
When asked by a news organization for a grade, I gave this session a B. That grade may be optimistic, but it is based partially on the groundwork that seemed to be laid for the 2014 legislative session.