June 29, 2015

Initiative petitions seeking Missouri minimum wage increase cleared for signatures

Three initiative petitions that would ask voters whether to increase Missouri’s minimum wage have been cleared by the Secretary of State’s office for backers to begin gathering signatures.

Lara Granich

Lara Granich

Supporters of the petitions include Missouri Jobs with Justice.  Director Lara Granich says she believes a minimum wage increase is supported by most Missourians.

“The last time voters had a chance to decide about this was in 2006,” said Granich. “At that time, they raised the minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.50 an hour and put a cost of living adjustment in. Voters passed that by 76% statewide. They passed it in every single county of the state by 16 points or more.”

Granich thinks a gradual increase is good for businesses and the economy.

“I think it’s important to understand that these increases would be phased in gradually over time and really give businesses a chance to make the adjustments they need to make.”

Brian Bunten

Brian Bunten

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce opposes an increase.  Legislative Director Brian Bunten says it would be a mandated increase in the cost to do business in Missouri.

“It places Missouri at a competitive disadvantage to our surrounding states.”

Bunten thinks the proposed increases would cause businesses to have to cut costs. “Some of these workers would be reduced to maybe part-time status,” said Bunten. “They could also lose some of their benefits.”

The petitions would increase the wage from the current $7.65 an hour to $9 an hour. One would then increase that by one dollar a year until it reaches $15 an hour, while the other two would increase it to $11 or $12 an hour.

New Missouri Auditor sworn into office

Missouri’s new state auditor has been sworn in.  Nicole Galloway was formerly Boone County Treasurer. She will fill the unexpired term of Tom Schweich, who committed suicide on February 26th.

Galloway 4

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Galloway says one of the tasks she wants to take on now that she’s in office is to assess the risk cyber-crime presents to all Missourians.

“Anthem was hacked. You think about the large retailers that have been hacked and things like that. Just applying those same concepts and ways to what we do in the Auditor’s office,” said Galloway.

She says she will assess the personnel in the office and the audits that are already underway.

“I have all intentions of completing the audits that are currently in progress and reporting those findings to the public,” said Galloway.

Galloway, a Democrat, was appointed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, to replace Schweich, a Republican who ran unopposed for Auditor in the 2014 election cycle.  Two of the remaining key members of Schweich’s staff in the auditor’s office, Deputy Auditor, Harry Otto and Trish Vincent have resigned.

Galloway’s office has announced John Luetkemeyer will serve as Deputy State Auditor and Michael Moorefield will be her Chief of Staff.

Luetkemeyer is a career certified public accountant and Auditor’s Office staff member since 1981. Moorefield most recently served as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the State Treasurer’s Office.


Amendment Ten worries Missouri Governor Nixon (AUDIO)

Governor Nixon is reviewing the implications of an amendment approved this week that he thinks limits his power to keep the state budget in balance.

Governor Jay Nixon announces he will make cuts and layoffs in the Department of Motor Vehicles if the legislature carries through with a proposal to provide only eight months' worth of funding to that Department.

Governor Jay Nixon.

Nixon and the Republican-dominated legislature have butted heads repeatedly about Nixon’s practice of withholding funding from projects and programs after lawmakers approve a state budget. Nixon says it’s his job to keep the state from deficit spending throughout a fiscal year.  Amendment Ten, approved by 57% of the voters earlier this week, lets the legislature override his decisions to withhold.

Nixon says the present situation illustrates the challenge the legislature has created for itself and for him–a budget that requires state revenue to grow twice as fast as it is growing. “You can’t spend money we don’t have,” he says.

Lawmakers say they have been forced to put the amendment before voters because Nixon has played politics by withholding funds.   Some Republicans already are talking of overriding some withholds when the new legislative session begins in January.   Nixon says he’ll just do the best he can to keep the budget in balance.

AUDIO: Nixon press conference 15:00

Missouri to limit pension advance operators

Missouri will become the first state later this summer to ban operations that state officials say can defraud thouands of retirees out of all or part of their pensions.

The effort will protect only retired government employees who are approached by  pension advance operators.   The bill passed by the Legislature this spring and signed by the governor goes into effect August 28th.  State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, who made the issue his top legislative priority this year, says pension advances are dangerous and can be frauds.

“These schemes are currently unregulated in Missouri…and these agreements can be easily misrepresented to the borrower. Pension advances often include requirements to buy life insurance…Interest rates can often exceed 100percent,” he says.

The new law blocks pension advances by making it illegal for any participant in a  state retirement to transfer or assign any part of that retirement plan to somebody else.

Zweifel says pension advances are dangerous: “You could put yourself in a serious position where, because of the upfront payment, you really reduce your retirement security for the long term,” he says.

The new law does not apply to pension plans in the private sector.  But it’s a caution for non-government pensioners as well.

AUDIO: Zweifel interview


Payday loan bill advances (AUDIO)

A proposed law that could keep some customers of payday loans from becoming victims of payday loans is close to approval by the state senate.

The legislature has been trying to put some limits on payday loan companies for years. This time, the industry is not fighting the effort. Rogersville Senator Mike Cunningham is not trying to shut down the industry. He’s trying to limit opportunities for customers to get into trouble.

Cunningham says payday loan companies are needed because banks don’t want to make small loans of the kind a customer sought one day while he was visiting one of those stores–a few dollars to buy a new washing machine because hers had broken..

A key feature of his bill prohibits borrowers from having more than one loan at a time.  And it prohibits rollover loans. Cunningham admits his bill is flawed on that point.  But the alternative to the flaw is worse. “How you would enforce it, I don’t know, and when you do try that you drive people to the internet to borrow money, where you lose all control,” he says.                                     

The bill lets people have an extended payment plan with no interest charged during that time, but not a loan to pay off a loan.

The bill can go to the House with one more favorable vote.  

 AUDIO: debate segment 30:19