Legislative Update: February 12, 2018

West County Democrats

Legislative Update

February 12, 2018



Federal Items:

Congress accomplished as much in a couple of days last week as they have in the past year.  As part of the budget deal…

The national debt will expand to cover expenses until March 2019;

CHIPS (health insurance for kids) will continue for several years;

Military and domestic spending has a blueprint for the next two years; and,

Additional funds have been targeted for combating opioid abuse, increasing childcare for low-income moms, and many other items.

However, as noted by Politico, ”The budget deal only decides the size of the pie, not the size of the slices.”   Congress must finish work on the mess of targeted appropriations bills before March 23rd.  If the “omnibus” is not enacted by that time most of the progress made in the budget deal evaporates.

By the way, President Trump will deliver his 2019 budget to Congress today, February 12th.

Don’t worry, it has virtually no chance of being accepted – which is good since it is expected to outline deep cuts to domestic programs to help pay for the tax cuts enacted late last year.

Per the agreement made in the Senate, it is expected that Senators will work towards a long term solution for Dreamers.  It is less clear if the House will take up any immigration reform before March 5 when Dreamers begin to lose their protected status.

The Congressional Republican leadership has abandoned their party’s oft repeated call for a balanced budget.  It is now expected that the deficit – as a portion of Gross Domestic Product – will soar higher during the Trump administration than in any previous GOP regime.

Since this is an election year, the House and Senate want work abbreviated schedules in 2018.  It is possible that both chambers will have less than 160 session days this year.

The federal bureaucracy has also turned Trump.  For example, the Department of Labor just ended a comment period on their proposal to allow employers to confiscate tips from wait staff and bartenders.   As long as those tipped employees still made more than minimum wage, the employer could take the trips to use to help pay cooks and other non-tipped staff – or, increase their profits.

State Items:

After five weeks in session, the Missouri legislature has pushed just one bill on to the Governor’s desk.  That bill will require signs at truck stops, hotels and other sites which list emergency numbers for those wishing to escape human trafficking.

Always follow the money…Predicting revenue and expenses more than a year in advance is always a challenge, more luck than art or science.  This year the process is made harder by the effects of Missouri and federal tax cuts.

The governor’s proposed budget projected an increase in funds available:  the consensus is that Missouri’s General Revenue will plummet hundreds of millions of dollars below what the state expects to receive this fiscal year.  Some expect a $400 million shortfall, others say $600 million is probable.

Despite the governor’s rosy numbers, his proposal demanded further steep cuts in higher education and Medicaid, and, offered no raise to state employees.  At best – if Greitens gets changes lessening worker security – lower-paid state employees will get a one-time $650 bonus (equivalent to a 31¢ an hour raise for one year).

Now, facing severe cuts to education and other basic programs due to a lack of tax revenue, what does the governor and several other Republicans want to do?  Further cut taxes.

Senators Andrew Koenig and Bill Eigel want to work towards the complete elimination of the state income tax, replacing it largely with higher sales taxes while cutting state government programs.  The governor’s plan also offsets lower income tax revenue with tweaks to other taxes impacting consumers and businesses.  While the governor claims his proposal is “revenue neutral” the best guess is that it would result in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue – and guarantee full employment for tax preparers.

As they promised their supporters, the Republican super majorities continue to push through tort reforms which favor corporations over citizens; increase the ability of utilities to raise rates without Public Service Commission interference; and, lessen wage protections for workers.  Repealing “Prevailing Wage” protections is on the agenda, and, reducing unemployment pay to 13 weeks (second lowest in the nation) are on-track for passage.

Last week the legislature made Governor Greitens follow a state law.  The maximum salary the director of state departments may earn is set by a formula in state statues.  Senators learned that Steven Corsi, the governor’s head of the Department of Social Services, was getting paid the maximum by DSS and also receiving about $1,200 a month from the Department of Health and Senior Services, putting his total pay above what the law allows.

Late Friday the governor reduced Corsi’s pay to what the law allowed – which is less than he was paid for doing the same job in Wyoming.

Submitted by Glenn Koenen, WCD Member

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