Corporate tax reform clears Missouri Senate

Senate Bill 674 aims to close loopholes, lower rates and impel economic growth

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — It’s time for tax cuts.

Last week, the Missouri Senate approved a corporate tax reform package by a vote of 28 to 4. Senate Bill 674 would drastically reduce the state’s business tax rate, nearly cutting it in half. Additionally, the bill alters language that its supporters say allowed companies headquartered out-of-state to pay fewer taxes than their in-state competitors.

“It’s a massive tax cut for Missouri-based businesses, without blowing a hole in the budget,” said Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, addressing the state press corps. “You know, nothing’s more destructive to economic growth than the corporate income tax, and so we need to make our state more competitive.”

Those critical of the measure are worried cutting taxes might imperil revenue at a time when funding is tight.

Although he decided to vote in favor of Senate Bill 674, Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, expressed concerns about the legislature’s continued push for lower taxes.

“Do you think that that’s going to help our revenue situation to fund these obligations, or do you think it’s just going to exacerbate the problem that we had this morning, which was not having enough revenue to cover all the bases?” Holsman said during debate on the bill.

The senator was referring to a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing held April 10. The committee is quickly approaching its deadline to approve the state budget for the next fiscal year. It might have to make further cuts to vital public resources, such as higher education and health care. However, the extent to which these programs might be cut — and, indeed, which programs will see reductions at all — is still being debated.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the General Assembly must pass a balanced budget. Thankfully, the “balanced” requirement seems less daunting now than it has in past years. The 2017 process, alone, resulted in a spending cut of $251 million. Don’t expect such drastic reductions for 2018.

Senate Bill 674 is a companion to Senate Bill 617, another tax reform proposal under Senate consideration.

While Senate Bill 674 alters the corporate income tax, Senate Bill 617 focuses on lowering the individual income tax for most Missourians — especially those at the very top and bottom of the income distribution scale. Senate Bill 617 would also gradually increase the motor fuel tax to provide more funding for roads, bridges and other public infrastructure.

Senate Bill 674 cleared the Senate without much fuss, probably due to its relatively minor projected effects on state revenue, or perhaps because it favors Missouri-based corporations over out-of-state interests.

When Senate Bill 617 comes up for a vote, it’s likely to receive much harsher criticism. Left-leaning senators are uneasy about lowering income tax rates for the wealthiest Missourians, even if low-income citizens receive tax cuts, as well. Meanwhile, some conservative lawmakers have voiced concern over raising the motor fuel tax. Currently, it’s one of the lowest in the nation; a fair share of Assembly members would like to keep it that way.

Senate Bill 674 now heads to the House of Representatives for further discussion. Both chambers of the General Assembly have until May 18, the end of the 2018 legislative session, to approve the bill.

After that? The bill must be re-filed for the next legislative session, which begins in January. Before then, Missouri will hold another round of statewide elections. For supporters of the bill, it’s a risk to wait; the next General Assembly might be less amenable to cutting taxes.

Missouri legislature enters back half of 2018 legislative session

The General Assembly has until May 18 to pass new bills

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The 2018 legislative session is winding down.

State lawmakers in Missouri, currently on spring break, will reconvene Monday for the final months of legislative activity. Both chambers of the General Assembly have until May 18 to pass any pending legislation.

After that… well, there’s always next year.

This session, which began in January, has seen its fair share of successful legislation. Few measures have been passed by both sides of the legislature — normally, the Senate and House of Representatives wait until the second half of session to consider proposals from the other chamber — but scores of bills have already made their way through one or the other.

For example, the Senate has managed to pass bills raising the age cutoff for juvenile prosecution, capping utility rate increases and broadening eligibility for the Missouri Rx prescription drug assistance program.

But several high-profile proposals still remain in limbo, including:

  • Various tax reform measures
  • Prevailing wage repeal (or curtailment)
  • School choice scholarship waivers
  • Tightening joinder and venue laws
  • Repealing tuition increase caps for public universities

Before session concludes, the legislature must also pass the state’s operating budget for the next fiscal year.

As a multimedia specialist for the Senate, I created a video package reviewing the first half of the 2018 legislative session. Watch it below, and be sure to visit the Senate’s webpage for daily legislative updates.

Missouri Senate passes bill to raise the age of juvenile prosecution

Currently, 17-year-olds are prosecuted as adults. Senate Bill 793 would change that.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — By unanimous vote, the Missouri Senate approved a bill that would raise the age of juvenile prosecution for most criminal offenses.

Currently, 17-year-old Missourians are prosecuted as adults. Senate Bill 793 would raise the minimum age for prosecution in courts of general jurisdiction to 18 — unless the accused is already certified as an adult or is charged with a traffic or curfew violation.

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The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, believes this measure would humanize the Missouri court system, while also making it more efficient. In a press conference held March 8 immediately following the bill’s passage, he noted how the criminal justice system often fails to rehabilitate those it punishes.

“The recidivism rate for people in the juvenile justice system is a lot better than putting them in the criminal justice system,” Wallingford said. “In the criminal justice system, people say it’s kind of like a graduate school for criminals.”

Senate Bill 793 awaits further debate in the Missouri House of Representatives. The state legislature has until May 18, the end of its 2018 regular session, to take action on the bill. If approved by the House, the measure would need the governor’s signature or a two-thirds veto override from both chambers to be enacted into law.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I created a short video package on the legislation’s passage. View the video below, and be sure to visit the Missouri Senate website for daily updates on state government news.

Missouri Senate passes regulatory reform for public utilities

Senate Bill 564 sets a cap on rate increases, but some say it could have unintended consequences

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate endured a multi-day fillibuster over Senate Bill 564, a proposal to cap public utility rate increases and alter the regulatory framework of the Public Service Commission.

The bill’s supporters say it would ensure consumers’ electric costs stay consistent between billing periods, and would provide avenues for public utility companies to update a deteriorating electrical grid.

Opponents believe the bill would hurt the PSC’s ability to protect consumers, ultimately resulting in higher rates down the road. They see it as a giveaway to moneyed interests that lobbied hard for the bill’s passage.

The issue crossed partisan lines. The legislation is sponsored by Republican Sen. Ed Emery and is supported by many of his colleagues of both political parties, but was pilloried by Republican Sens. Rob Schaaf, Gary Romine and Doug Libla, who led the filibuster against the bill. The conservative trio was bolstered by Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who joined the filibuster hours after it first began.

Under Missouri Senate rules, a single senator can hold the floor for debate on a bill indefinitely, forestalling a final vote in the process. Opposition senators began the filibuster shortly after 7 p.m. on Feb. 7. Swapping in and out, they held the floor through the night and into the next morning, all the while atttempting to negotiate concessions from the bills’s supporters. Over 24 hours later, having secured a compromise, they relented.

Senate Bill 564 was declared perfected on Feb. 8, and was officially passed by the Senate a week later. It now awaits further action in the House of Representatives.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I compiled a short video on the debate for official government use. Watch the package below, and don’t forget to check out the Missouri Senate website for daily updates on the 2018 legislative session.

Missouri General Assembly kicks off 2018 legislative session

The part-time legislature will meet from January to May

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri legislature is back in session, ushering in a new year of conflict, compromise and co-operation.

State lawmakers traveled to the capital this week for the start of the second regular session of the 99th Missouri General Assembly. Session officially began Wednesday afternoon.

In the Senate, newly elected Sen. Mike Cierpiot was sworn in by the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. The Lee’s Summit Republican takes over from former Sen. Will Kraus in representing the 8th Senatorial District. Kraus, also a Republican, resigned from the Senate when Gov. Eric Greitens appointed him to the Missouri Tax Commission last summer.

Another Kansas City-area Republican, Sen. Ryan Silvey, is also leaving the Senate. On Tuesday, the governor appointed Silvey to the state’s Public Service Commission. A confirmation hearing was held Thursday morning for Kraus and Silvey, with both receiving full Senate confirmation shortly thereafter.

Silvey, though of the same party as the state’s chief executive, was a vocal critic of the governor. As a senator, Silvey was often a thorn in Greitens’ side during last year’s legislative session. As the Kansas City Star reports:

Silvey routinely criticized Greitens’ reliance on so-called dark money — campaign contributions routed through nonprofits to conceal the origin of the money. He was part of a bipartisan group of senators who called for the creation of a special legislative committee to investigate whether the governor engaged in illegal activity during his 2016 campaign as well as during his time as governor.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the unprecedented games being played by Gov. Greitens and his political machine,” Silvey said last year. “You can’t ignore possible unethical behavior by the governor or his campaign, just because you share the same party label. Missourians deserve to know what happened and it’s the duty of the Senate to find out.”

During the opening session, the Senate addressed a few housekeeping duties and offered a preview of what’s to come. Republican Sens. Rob Schaaf and Gary Romine vowed to oppose confirmation of five gubernatorial appointments to the State Board of Education — the same members who, in December, voted to fire former Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven. The governor later withdrew his interim appointees, then resubmitted them Wednesday as in-session nominees, giving the Senate more time to act on their confirmation but meanwhile removing them from the board.

On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed brought up the costs of opposing the nominees, saying doing so might have the effect of shutting down the Education Board until May. Without the five appointees, the board lacks a quorum to conduct business. Sen. Romine said the board’s hiatus would be unfortunate but bearable, and that the governor could remedy the situation by selecting nominees that are less controversial.

In Wednesday’s end-of-day press conference, Senate Republicans, who currently hold a super-majority in the chamber, addressed potential changes to the Missouri tax code, measures to stimulate economic development and working with the governor to improve state infrastructure.

Democratic leadership discussed filing amendments to last year’s Senate Bill 43, which raised the bar for proving workplace discrimination and altered whistle-blower protections. Sen. Gina Walsh, the minority leader, criticized the governor’s controversial Education Board appointments, but said she cannot speak for other members of her party.

As part of my duties as a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I compiled a short video on the start of the new session. The package features Cierpiot’s swearing-in and quotes from Senate leadership during Wednesday’s press conference.

Lawmaker proposes ‘largest tax cut in Missouri history’

Republican Sen. Bill Eigel wants to cut taxes while upping infrastructure funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring, has pre-filed a bill that would offer a major overhaul of the state’s tax system. He said the measure would cut taxes for a majority of Missourians while streamlining the collection process by doing away with some deductions and exemptions.

What’s different about this bill is that it also calls for a raise in the state’s fuel tax — currently one of the lowest in the nation — to increase infrastructure funding. Eigel, who hails from a growing suburban community, said he realizes the importance of maintaining Missouri’s transportation systems. Even though he has opposed raising the fuel tax before, he believes such a measure is acceptable when included in a larger package that reduces the overall tax burden on Missouri citizens.

Eigel said the bill dovetails with like-minded proposals currently making their way through the Republican-controlled United States Congress.

Some worry the measure is too extreme, as it proposes a slow elimination of the income tax in its entirety. Others simply believe now is the wrong time for Missouri to consider cutting taxes that pay for important public programs that are already underfunded — things such as education and health care.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I had the opportunity to create a video package on the proposed legislation. Watch it below, and be sure to visit senate.mo.gov for the latest updates on this specific legislation, Senate Bill 617, and other notable bills.

The Missouri General Assembly is set to convene Jan. 3 to begin its 2018 regular legislative session.

What is the Missouri Plan?

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City [Zachary Reger]
Missouri’s most notable claim-to-fame in modern legal philosophy is often overlooked.

The state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of merit-based judicial selection — the “Missouri Plan,” as it’s often called — marked a seismic shift in the process of court appointment, one that swept the nation in a grand revision of how we populate many of our appellate and high courts.

By forgoing popular alternatives of direct election and nomination-confirmation of state judges, Missouri ushered in a new “nonpartisan” era of judicial selection.

After the Plan’s initial adoption in the mid-1900s, dozens of states followed, creating merit-based systems of their own. Newly democratic nations across Europe and South America drew inspiration from the Plan in writing their own constitutions, as did even a few established democracies during historic reformation votes.

And Missouri started it all.

What follows is a brief overview of the philosophy and origins of the Missouri Plan, a lightly edited excerpt taken from my undergraduate thesis work at the University of Missouri.

Continue reading “What is the Missouri Plan?”