July 4, 2015

Missouri could face Canadian sanctions over labeling program

Economic sanctions could target Missouri, as well as the other 49 states, if the U.S. doesn’t lift the requirement that meat be labeled according to the country it came from.

Missouri pork is one of the products Canada intends to target with tariffs if given permission by the WTO, and if the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Program isn't repealed.  (photo courtesy; the University of Missouri College of Agriculture)

Missouri pork is one of the products Canada intends to target with tariffs if given permission by the WTO, and if the U.S. Country of Origin Labeling Program isn’t repealed. (photo courtesy; the University of Missouri College of Agriculture)

The World Trade Organization has for the fourth time ruled against the United States’ Country of Origin Labeling program (COOL), saying it discriminates against Mexican and Canadian livestock. The United States is out of appeals, and now Canadian General Consul Roy Norton says Canada is preparing to ask the Organization for permission to enact tariffs on its imports from the U.S.

“It’s not Canada’s objective or desire to retaliate against any product coming from the United States – Missouri, or any other state – to Canada. We love Missouri products,” said Norton. “But we feel that, having one four times in the court of law and nothing having happened so far on this, we have no choice but to signal a willingness to retaliate. When the WTO tells us, probably by September, what the dollar value of our losses has been, we will then have the final authority, as it were, to retaliate, if the United States hasn’t acted in the interim.”

Canada has identified about $60-million dollars’ worth of Missouri products it imports that could face tariffs. Top targets are cereals, which represent $25-million in exports a year; iron or steel grinding balls, the export of which are valued at $14-million; and baked goods including bread and cakes, worth $13-million.

Mexico’s market for Missouri goods is more than twice as large as Canada’s, and it’s also considering tariffs.

Legislation is moving in Washington to eliminate the labeling program. This week it cleared the House Agriculture Committee. Three members of Missouri’s Congressional Delegation; Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (R, MO-4) and Congressmen Sam Graves (R, MO-6) and Billy Long (R, MO-7), are sponsors of that bill.

Hartzler, after voting in favor of the bill with a majority of the committee’s members, issued a statement in which she called COOL a “troublesome” law.

“I have heard many times from the producers and livestock owners in Missouri of the negative effects of this provision,” wrote Hartzler. “The truth is the COOL program amounts to nothing more than a government mandated marketing program that does not provide any real value to producers or consumers.”

Supporters of COOL say the U.S. has a right to implement the labeling program and say Canada and other countries’ opposition is based on American consumers’ preference for U.S. products. They argue the WTO shouldn’t be allowed to decide U.S. food policy.

COOL backers also say labeling is a food safety issue, noting that a cow recently tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a degenerative neurological disease in cattle. It is the first such case in Canada since 2011. Norton argues COOL has nothing to do with food safety.

“The argument is made, but without any factual basis,” he told Missourinet.

 

Governor vetoes bill cutting unemployment time limit, override expected

The Governor has vetoed a bill that would reduce the length of time a person can be on unemployment. The bill would drop the maximum length of time a person can receive those benefits from 20 weeks to 13.

Senators Mike Kehoe and Scott Fitzpatrick

Senators Mike Kehoe and Scott Fitzpatrick

In a press release, Governor Nixon says “Supporters of this bill have forgotten that workers earn these insurance benefits by working, and that tough economic times often last longer than a mere 13 weeks. Missouri’s unemployment insurance trust fund remains, and is projected to remain, financially sound.”

House bill sponsor Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) tells Missourinet the state has a recurring problem of running out of money in the unemployment trust fund during a recession.

“When you run out of money in your unemployment trust fund, you have to either borrow from the federal government to continue to pay unemployment benefits or you have to go out to the private market and issue credit instruments to finance your ongoing unemployment obligations,” said Fitzpatrick.  “Since this last recession was pretty significant, we ran out of money, like we have in each of the last five recessions. We are the only state who’s run out of money in each of the last five recessions and has had to borrow.”

Senate bill sponsor Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) says it’s important for people to be self-sufficient.

“Unemployment insurance is meant to be kind of a net for somebody to get from one job to the next. It’s not meant to be the next job,” said Kehoe.

He said he doesn’t want the unemployment trust fund to continue to dry up during a recession and be a liability to Missourians and businesses. “At one point in time we were $550 million in debt to the federal government because that’s how far out of whack the unemployment trust fund was.”

Fitzpatrick and Kehoe both believe there are enough votes in the House and Senate to override the veto.

 

 

Democrats attack, GOP defends, accelerated Missouri budget timeline

Critics accuse Republican leadership in the Missouri legislature of ramming through the state’s FY 16 budget proposal with not enough debate and in a cloud of secrecy. Republican leaders are dismissing those criticisms.

Representative Gail McCann Beatty is the ranking Democrat on the House budget committee.  In a caucus statement she accused Republican leadership of, "Jamming through a budget while denying lawmakers and the public any chance to adequately review it."

Representative Gail McCann Beatty is the ranking Democrat on the House budget committee. In a caucus statement she accused Republican leadership of, “Jamming through a budget while denying lawmakers and the public any chance to adequately review it.”  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Democrats released a statement saying the Republican majority, “jammed through a $26-billion budget that was negotiated in secret by GOP leaders, given perfunctory approval by a legislative committee in the dead of night and then forced through both the House and Senate hours later without providing lawmakers any opportunity to review it before being forced to vote.”

Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) said the accusation that the budget was rushed is groundless.

“If you’re going to say that we were rushing the budget then you’re not taking account that we start before session even begins, working on it,” Dempsey told reporters.

Much of the criticism focuses on the work of the conference committees, one for each of the 13 budget bills, made up of members of the House and Senate, who attempt to strike an agreement between the two chambers’ versions of each bill. Many of the decisions resulting from that effort are revealed and voted on in a meeting consisting of members of all of those committees, though not all discussions leading up to that meeting are public.

House Speaker John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country) said the way that and conferences on other bills operate is open to the extent required by law.

“There are numerous lines and there are 162 House members that have interest in what’s in the budget, and there are 34 senators that have interest in the budget, and members are constantly communicating with each other as to what they want and what they don’t want in the budget. They refer that back to their chairman, who sometimes talk to me and I talk to leadership in the Senate or chairman about what priorities are,” said Diehl. “So that process will continue just as it does on every bill.”

Dempsey said of the way the budget conference process has played out, “That happens for policy bills as well.”

That budget conference committee hearing for the current session was held Wednesday night into Thursday morning. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) told reporters asking about the process and the criticism of it, “I’ve been talking to [House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan] now for quite a long time, I’ve kept my committee members informed.”

Schaefer also told reporters he was told a story by former state representative Chris Kelly, who once served as a House Budget Chairman.

House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, signs the budget bills after the House and Senate finished voting on them.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, signs the budget bills after the House and Senate finished voting on them. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“When he was the budget chairman, and Roger Wilson was the appropriations chairman – you know they’re both from Columbia – and they wrote the budget entirely one night while the two of them played a game of pool, and they actually got down to a position where they made some final decisions based on who got the next shot, on what would happen in the budget lines,” said Schaefer. “So, if that gives you any indication of how this budget has been done for decades … because that was quite a long time ago.”

Asked whether anything that has been done in the budget process potentially violates the state’s open records and meetings law, Schaefer said, “Absolutely not.”

Republicans made it a goal to get the 13 bills that make up the budget to Governor Jay Nixon (D) ahead of schedule this year because getting them to him early enough means he only has 15 days to act on them. Nixon could sign them, veto all or part of each of them, or let them become law without taking any action.

If the budget went to Nixon in the final 15 days of session, he would have 45 days to act on it. By getting it two him two weeks ahead of the constitutional deadline, Republican leadership would have time to consider attempting to override before the end of the session any vetoes he might issue, rather than having to wait until the veto session in September.

Schaefer believes the state constitution would also only require a simple majority of lawmakers’ votes to overturn a veto during the session, as opposed to the two-thirds majority usually required.

House Democrats say that doesn’t leave Nixon enough time to do a “meaningful and thorough” review of a $26-billion dollar plan.

“Republicans have abandoned fiscal responsibility in favor of political theater,” House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis) wrote. “With $26-billion of taxpayer money at stake, you would think GOP leaders would treat the process with the seriousness it deserves. Apparently you would be wrong.”

For his part, Governor Nixon has not criticized the legislature’s accelerated schedule since it sent him the budget. In a statement from his office Thursday, Nixon said, “I thank the General Assembly for delivering the budget on time and answering my call to make responsible investments in K-12 classrooms, college affordability and mental health. We will give the budget a careful, line-by-line review and take any actions necessary to ensure we maintain our strict fiscal discipline, protect our AAA credit rating and grow our economy.”

That budget is effective for the year that begins July 1.

Governor Nixon releases $43-million in Missouri’s FY 15 budget

Governor Jay Nixon has released another 43-million of the dollars he’s been withholding in the state’s budget.

Nixon said it’s possible because state revenue has improved.

“I’m pleased to report that as Missouri’s economy continues to pick up steam, state revenues are reflecting this positive trend,” said Nixon.

Nixon’s budget director Linda Luebbering announced on Thursday fiscal year-to-date net general revenue collections increased 6.8 percent compared to 2014, from $5.57 billion last year to $5.95 this year.

“We got to work immediately,” said Nixon of his staff’s reaction to the positive figures. “Today I’m pleased to announce that we’re able to provide $43-million in funding now for education, workforce training, and other key strategic investments.”

Nixon released money for capital improvements and repairs at state facilities and colleges, improvements to ports on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, more than $5.8-million for local libraries, and other programs.

The governor is still withholding more than $408-million from the current fiscal year’s budget. Most of that is tied to capital improvement projects, some of which could eventually be funded by bonding proposals. $149-million of those dollars are in the operating budget.

Bacon business expands operations to build new plant in Missouri

A new meat processing plant has made plans to set up shop in northwest Missouri.

Daily’s Premium Meats is expanding its operations to build a new plant that will be processing bacon in St. Joseph.  Daily’s Premium Meats is part of an integrated system owned jointly by Triumph Foods and Seaboard Foods.

Missouri Agriculture Director Richard Fordyce said the plant will further process pork coming from the Triumph Foods plant in St. Joseph.

Daily's Premium Honey Cured Bacon

Daily’s Premium Honey Cured Bacon

“They will literally take product out of the Triumph plant, literally take it across the street, and add further value and produce bacon,” said Fordyce.

Director of Communications David Eaheart said the plant will be built from the ground up and it will be across the street from the Triumph Foods pork processing plant.  Eaheart said the company chose St. Joseph for a couple of reasons.

“Triumph Foods is part of our food system and will be supplying pork bellies to it, so logistically it made sense,” said Eaheart.  “The city of St. Joseph offered incentives and a package that was very attractive to Daily’s.”

The Missouri Department of Economic Development claims it has offered a strict incentive package that the company can receive if it meets strict job creation and investment criteria.  The company’s expansion project includes an initial capital investment of $41.5 million.

Eaheart said the expansion project will create jobs.

“The plant will employ a little over 200 people and a lot of those will be working on the productions lines where they’ll actually be smoking, curing, slicing bellies, primarily for the food service market, which Daily’s specializes in,” said Eaheart.

Daily's Cherry Apple Wood Smoked Bacon

Daily’s Cherry Apple Wood Smoked Bacon

Construction of the 100,000 square-foot plant is scheduled to begin this summer and the company expects to be fully operational by May 2016.

“If all goes as planned with the construction of the plant, it should start operations in May, so it will sometime next spring or late winter when we’ll start looking to fill positions,” said Eaheart.

Daily’s Premium Meats was founded in 1893 in Missoula, Montana.  It’s sliced-to-order bacon is sold to national restaurant chains, local restaurants, and food service distributors.  The company is also trying to build its retail customer base.