JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The centennial session of the Missouri General Assembly kicked off with a bang last week. Lawmakers are back at work in Jefferson City and the first day back on the job last Thursday was not without some drama in the chambers of the state senate.
KMZU’s Brian Lock was joined in this week’s edition of the KMZU Capitol Conversation by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R-Mo.12), who said there is a lot of work for legislators to take on during the five-month annual session this year, but a new governor, more than 60 new legislators and many new state cabinet officials will create a whole new dynamic at the state capitol.
Click below to hear their conversation, which aired Wednesday on KMZU.
A new politics is reverberating through the halls of the Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City. Gov. Mike Parson was sworn in to office just weeks after the 99th Missouri General Assembly came to a close, multiple new statewide officials have been elevated to high office and dozens of new legislators look to make their mark during this year’s centennial legislative session.
“I think we are really looking forward to working with each other right now, as we do with most sessions,” Sen. Hegeman said. “We’ve got a governor who understands the legislative process and really wants to work with legislators as we go through the process . . . that’s welcome and refreshing.”
Gov. Parson’s relationship with the legislative branch is a marked difference from his predecessor, former Gov. Eric Greitens. Republicans and Democrats alike have welcomed Parson’s interactions with legislators, a pointed change from the often testy, or even hostile, dynamic between Greitens and the House and Senate during the 99th General Assembly.
It won’t all be smooth sailing, however. During the first day back in session, President Pro Tem Dave Schatz (R-Mo.26) moved to add additional committee assignments for sitting senators leading to a number of his fellow Republican senators revolting, holding up business in the senate for hours last Thursday. Some lawmakers worry the drama could be a harbinger of things to come, but Hegeman expressed confidence in Sen. Schatz’s leadership in the senate.
“We had some senators who challenged a rule change and had the floor for a number of hours in the process of doing that. . . That’s yet to be worked out, but I tend to be upbeat and look forward to working with the new leadership and moving the senate forward as well as the state forward,” Hegeman said.
Infrastructure funding has emerged as a major issue for lawmakers to tackle this year. Voters defeated a government-supported proposition to increase the gas tax in the state, widely known as ‘Prop D’, by a wide margin in November. That loss left officials scrambling to find the money to cover massive costs to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure, but an agreed solution between both chambers may be difficult to achieve.
“Last year we coalesced around one issue, Proposition D, put it to the Missouri people and they said, ‘you need to do better general assembly and bring us a product we will be happy with’ ,” Hegeman added.
There is some support for a flat increase in the gas tax to be put to voters again, Hegeman explained, but it is unclear if there is much appetite among senators to put the question to voters a second time. Other lawmakers have proposed dipping into the state’s general revenue fund, however that idea concerns some lawmakers, including Sen. Hegeman.
“Well, I am certainly concerned about [falling state revenues,]” Hegeman admitted. “We’ve not considered it in the past for that reason. We’ll just have to look again. A lot of people think state revenues will shore up once people start filing their income taxes, but that’s yet to be seen.”
For the first quarter of fiscal year 2019, Missouri’s general revenues fell by 2.9 percent, despite a projected increase. While Hegeman is confident that tax filings will help boost state coffers, some experts and state officials aren’t so sure. Following the federal tax cut early in 2018, former Gov. Greitens pushed through a state tax cut, which he billed as “the most aggressive state tax reform in the nation” during his State of the State address in January 2018. Experts worry that tax revenues will continue to fall as the tax cuts compound on one another.
Some point to what is known in political circles as ‘ the Kansas Experiment’ as example of tax cuts gone awry. Kansas state legislators passed income tax reform in 2012 which eliminated income taxes for 200,000 Kansasans and lowered the top-line rate by 25 percent, however state revenues had fallen so dramatically by 2018 that lawmakers were forced to repeal the tax cut passed fewer than four years earlier.
“We need to be cautious. I’ve said this before, we witnessed our friends to the west and their experiment on tax cuts and it didn’t turn out very well,” Hegeman said. “So I think Missouri needs to be very cautious about that and remain cautious. . . we do have some basic functions we need to take care of and basic responsibilities we need to do so that’s why I think Missouri is the Show-Me-State and why we need to be very cautious as we approach our budgeting aspects.”