JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With less than one month left in the current legislative session, lawmakers in Jefferson City are in a whirlwind sprint to the finish line to pass their legislative agenda. Rep. Peggy McGaugh (R-Carrollton) told KMZU’s Brian Lock in this week’s edition of the KMZU Capitol Conversation she will not let felony charges against Gov. Eric Greitens distract her from doing the work she said voters sent her to do.
Click below to hear KMZU’s Brian Lock chat with Rep. McGaugh.
Legislators have their plates full all over Jefferson City, with a new state budget taking precedence over any other legislation currently.
“It has been a busy week. Late nights, early mornings,” Rep. McGaugh said. “Right now, what I can tell you is that the senate committee on appropriations did complete their work. They attempted to craft their version of the $28 billion fiscal year 19 budget. So they’re going to begin their debate on 13 appropriation bills”
The process to pass any type of legislation is tedious, but when tens of billions of dollars are at stake, lawmakers will take their time to comb through all of the finer details of any appropriation bills.
“Once the full senate has voted out the bills, with any further changes, the bills will come back to the house,” McGaugh explained. “Some of the more interesting ones – of course, number one, performance funding for higher education. The senate version has some of that removed and placed back into individual cores.”
The house asked for $98 million in additional funding for higher education, however the senate only appropriated $50 million for colleges and universities in Missouri.
“Another thing I got a lot of constituent e-mails on was the nursing home payment,” Rep. McGaugh continued. “That did increase by $8.30 per day, that’s a $17 million budget line item. They also put in $48 million in the foundation instead of the $98 million the house put in, so we will definitely have to go to conference on this issue.”
McGaugh, a freshman representative, said she has been amazed by the process of building such a massive budget.
“As you know, this is my first year at a state budget, so I have learned quite a bit,” McGaugh lauded. “The numbers are quite large, larger than the Carroll County budget for sure, but I’ve enjoyed learning, I’ve watched the debate, learned the posturing and have really enjoyed learning where some of the money goes.”
Discrepancies between the senate and house proposals for the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget have resulted in jitters for some Missouri lawmakers, but McGaugh claimed she was not worried.
“I think like always there will be an agreement because that is the constitutional thing we must get done while we’re in session, which ends May 18, McGaugh observed. “So we will definitely have crafted a budget and truly and finally agreed to by that date, if not before.”
Passing a new budget isn’t the only major headache for the legislature during the sprint to the end of this legislative session, though. Gov. Eric Greitens promised “the boldest state tax reform in America” in his first-ever State of the State speech in January. While the Republican-led legislature has bucked many of the priorities Greitens laid out in his speech and his budget proposal, they have promised to deliver on tax cuts for Missourians.
“So I know the ultimate goal was to provide a better tax policy framework going forward,” McGuagh explained. “You know, its been ten, 50, a hundred years. It’s not something we just achieved the past one of two years. They’re basically trying to create a new system that will sustain itself.”
There are dueling plans between the house and senate, however. A proposal given approval in the senate would leave the individual tax rate unchanged with a top end of 5.9% but would lower the corporate rate to 3.5%. In the house, lawmakers have other plans.
“To ease the tax burden on families, this bill would reduce the state’s highest personal income tax rate from 5.9 to 5.0 [percent], so that would place Missouri in the top ten for lowest personal income tax,” McGuagh said. “But then, it would also help Missouri’s business climate by cutting the corporate tax rate from 6.25 to 5.0 [percent], which is the same as the families, so there is where we are going to generate the revenues for the state’s roads and bridges. ”
Rep. McGaugh has pledged to use her tenure to improve the roadways across the 39th district, however with the allegations swirling and two felony charges filed against Gov. Greitens, getting anything enshrined in law may not be so easy.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin) called on the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings against the governor immediately, but the house plans to hold a special legislative session in June. Richard also said he may block any legislation from going to Greitens’ desk for his signature.
“As an outsider for many, many years I have watched the political process, but I can honestly say I have never heard or seen anything like this,” McGaugh stated. “It is like any other case, however, and we must realize all the facts must be considered before there can be a final decision made.”
With bipartisan support to block legislation from reaching the governor’s desk, it is not clear what the strategy of the legislature is, but McGaugh insisted there is a plan.
“I believe the speaker of the house and the senate want to stick to the plan that they need to have all of the evidence and all the facts from all parties before they can make a decision,” McGaugh added. “I support that, even if it means that at some point in time we have to come back for a special session or we have to elongate our session.”
While the fate of Gov. Greitens remains unclear, one thing is clear – the clock is ticking for lawmakers in Jefferson City.