December 21, 2014

Missouri Conservation official worried proposals could gut Department’s funds

Tim Ripperger (Courtesy of MDC)

Tim Ripperger (Courtesy of MDC)

Two legislative proposals have been filed that in their current form would jeopardize 85 percent of the Missouri Department of Conservation’s budget.  HJR 8 would ask voters to change the Constitution to eliminate the conservation sales tax, which generates around $110 million.  Senate Bill 56 would eliminate the sale of hunting, fishing, and trapping permits to Missouri residents, which generates up to $40 million in revenue and federal aid.

Department of Conservation Deputy Director Tim Ripperger says if these bills pass many conservation programs may lose funding.

“It would impact more than just sportsmen in the state, it would be a huge loss and impact on the entire conservation program,” said Ripperger.

State Representative Craig Redmon filed HJR 8, which would eliminate the one-eighth of one percent conservation tax by June 30, 2017, but told Missourinet he doesn’t actually want to see the tax eliminated.

“It has to be reviewed or sunset somehow because if you just have a funding source that never has an end to it, I don’t think that’s good responsible politics,” said Redmon.

State Representative Craig Redmon

State Representative Craig Redmon

Redmon told Missourinet he proposed the resolution as a starting point for debate, expecting that he and the Department will work out a compromise that would build a sunset or periodic review into the tax.

Ripperger says the Department wouldn’t want a review or sunset on that tax.

“The people of Missouri voted the tax in from an initiative petition,” said Ripperger.

“If that were eliminated… at some point we would have to figure out as a state then how do we support conservation in the state.  Is it with general revenue funds?  Which then takes that general revenue away from some other agency or some other cause the state is working hard on,” said Ripperger.

The Department of Conservation does not receive general revenue funds.

Senator Brian Munzlinger is proposing Senate Bill 56.

Munzlinger says because Missouri citizens already pay the conservation sales tax, he sees the sale of permits as a form of double taxation.

Senator Brian Munzlinger

Senator Brian Munzlinger

“You would still have out-of-state residents that would still have to pay … but it would allow Missouri residents to not have to pay twice for what they’ve already paid for,” said Munzlinger.

Ripperger said Missouri sportsmen have a long legacy of supporting conservation through fees and licenses, and said Missouri sportsmen worked in support of the initiative petition that placed that conservation sales tax on the ballot in 1976.

He said that tax also benefits the state economically.

“A dedicated conservation sales tax doesn’t place a financial burden on the state budget for conservation management activities.  In fact, it’s an income generator for less than 1 percent of the state budget in Missouri.  Conservation has a total economic return when you consider fish and wildlife recreation and the forest product industry at over 12 billion annually and supports over 100 thousand jobs statewide,” said Ripperger.

Ripperger says if both of these proposals pass as written, other conservation programs that might lose funding or be cut would include the Department’s work with rural fire departments, road rock for counties, and nature centers throughout the state.

 

 

GOP leaders plan earlier timetable for FY16 Missouri budget proposal

Republican leaders in the legislature plan to step up the budget process this year and have it done ahead of schedule.

Representative Tom Flanigan (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Tom Flanigan (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage) is the vice chairman of the House Budget Committee and will likely be the chairman of that committee, in the General Assembly that begins work in January.

He told Missourinet his party wants to move up the budget process by as much as three weeks and put the appropriations bills on the desk of Governor Nixon by mid-April, “Which would give plenty of time for the governor to review it while we’re still in session, and if there was an issue with any of the bills themselves, we would still have an opportunity to correct them.”

That would also means there would be time before the end of the session for the Republican-led legislature to consider overriding any vetoes Governor Nixon makes of spending proposals, or to use its new ability to overturn his decisions to restrict spending.

“When the voters passed Amendment 10, that gave us the ability to override a governor’s withholds,” said Flanigan. “Now, the governor’s withholds – some of those are very necessary. You don’t just pick a withhold and try to override it. Some of them will be necessary and some of those may not be. That will be up to the work of the legislature to determine which one of those we would override or not override.”

Flanigan says the House Budget Committee might begin meeting on the second day of session to begin organizing.

Last year the legislature and the governor were not able to agree on an estimate of what state revenue in the coming year will be, that would be used to base a proposed budget off of.

Anticipating that could happen again, Flanigan says the House and Senate have a new name for the number they’ve agreed to.

“The Senate and the House for the first time actually produced what was called a ‘General Assembly Number.’ We worked very closely with Senator [Kurt] Schaefer’s office in preparing our joint [Consensus Revenue Estimate].”

By state statute the budget for Fiscal Year 2016 must be delivered to the governor by the close of business on May 8.

Missouri legislature might try out new override powers during session

Lawmakers think they can override Governor Jay Nixon’s decisions to hold back money in the budget when they meet in three weeks, but the Governor isn’t so sure.

A stack of state budget bills (file photo).

A stack of state budget bills (file photo).

Voters approved changing the state Constitution so that when a governor decides to hold back money in the budget, the legislature could vote to override that decision and release it, just like it would when he vetoes proposed spending.

Senate Budget Committee chairman Kurt Schaefer believes the legislature will be able to use that power in the session that starts January 7.

“Once it becomes the law, which is as soon as the election results are certified, which is December of this year, that is the law of the state of Missouri. If the governor is continuing to withhold, then he is subject to an override by the legislature, under Amendment 10,” said Schaefer.

Governor Nixon says his office is still analyzing when that change will take effect.

“It’s hard to believe that it would be retroactive for actions taken last year,” said Nixon. “But we’ll look forward to sitting down and talking with them. It is important to know if they want to spend more money, then there have to be cuts so that the budget stays balanced.”

Schaefer thinks when considering what restrictions to overturn, legislators will first look at the things in the budget the governor vetoed, that the legislature later overturned the vetoes of.

Schaefer and House Speaker-designee John Diehl, Junior, have said the legislature will consider whether to use its Amendment 10 power after the session begins.

Earlier story:  Missouri lawmakers consider using new budget powers (VIDEO)

Missouri Governor, lawmakers say repairs to Capitol a priority (VIDEOS)

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has committed to working with the state legislature to issue bonds to pay for repairs to the nearly 100-year-old State Capitol.

Nixon, several legislators, and members of the media on Monday afternoon toured parts of the Capitol basement where evidence of damage caused by water leaks could be seen.

Some state lawmakers have pushed for money to be invested in repairs to the Capitol for several years. Nixon said he is making the issue a priority this year because the state has paid off some of the state’s debt, and because the legislature last year increased the bonding authority for state buildings by $400-million.

“All we’re saying here, Senate, House, Democrat, Republican, is, that this building is a priority to us and as we approach that 100th anniversary we’re going to use that bonding authority granted by last year’s legislature to make this building safer, better, and more accessible for Missourians as well as a better place to work for folks that call this the place that they get their work done.”

Cathy Brown with the Office of Administration’s Division of Facilities Management led the tour and explained to the lawmakers and media members what they were seeing.

She said water damage is, “infiltrating the south steps, through the carriage drive, through the facade, through the walls,” and among other things has left the carriage drive unusable out of fear it can not support the weight of vehicles.

The governor’s office estimates that about $40-million dollars in exterior stonework repair is necessary, and up to another $35-million in other repairs and renovation projects might also be considered once the legislative session begins January 7.

“This is not something that’s the most popular subject to talk about but it’s also part of our infrastructure conversation and this is the people’s building,” said Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City), “and if there’s anything we can pass on to generations to come, it is this building. It’s about to turn 100 years old and I think it’s very important that we address the issues to keep it going for the next 100 years.”

Nixon and lawmakers acknowledged there could be opposition to the bond issuance, but say the Capitol is important to the whole state.

“There’s always opposition from somebody for something all the time,” said Representative Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage), “but what you’ve got a Capitol building that belongs to the people of the state of Missouri, of which we all come from different corners of the state to serve the people of Missouri. You’ve got 40-thousand school kids that came through this building last year, and I think they deserve a safe tour of the building, and for future kids that follow them.”

See pictures from the tour of the Capitol basement, then statements from the Governor and several legislators, below:

Missouri Legislative leaders express doubts about tolls on I-70

The Department of Transportation will answer Governor Nixon’s request for a report by December 31 on options for using toll roads to pay for an improved and expanded I-70. Key legislators, however, have told Missourinet they have their doubts about whether such a plan can clear the General Assembly.

Jefferson City state senator and former highway commissioner Mike Kehoe offered such a bill in 2012. He says polling showed it was less favored than a sales tax, which nearly 60 percent of Missouri voters rejected in August.

“I know selling toll roads is a very, very, very tough conversation because I was the leader of the conversation,” Kehoe said.

“Sixty percent of Missouri’s population lives either 30 miles north or 30 miles south of I-70,” Kehoe observed, “So when you affect 60 percent of our state’s population with a plan you need pretty wide acceptance. I would maintain that those citizens in the counties along the I-70 corridor will not be excited about this proposal.”

Kehoe commended Nixon for being involved in looking for a transportation funding solution.

House Speaker-designee John Diehl, Junior (R-Town and Country), expressed doubt that a meaningful study can be completed in 20 days.

“To get something like this done in a period of two to three weeks means the decision’s already been made and we’re trying to provide a process to cover up the decision, or it means it’s not going to be very thorough,” said Diehl.

Transportation Department Special Assignments Coordinator Bob Brendel says the Department will begin its study with the information it still has from doing a similar analysis 3 years ago.

Diehl said before voters can be expected to support toll roads, lawmakers should make sure the Department has done all it can to use transportation money on transportation, and to determine why Missouri has a shortfall in funding.