December 18, 2014

State Auditor gives ‘good’ review of Missouri Agriculture Department

The State Auditor has given high marks in his office’s review of the Department of Agriculture.

State Auditor Tom Schweich

State Auditor Tom Schweich

“It’s probably the best audit we’ve given of a state agency since I’ve been auditor,” Tom Schweich told Missourinet.

His office’s report rates the overall performance of the Department as “good.”

“There were some areas that need improvement, but in a department as large as that with a couple hundred employees and a lot of responsibility across the state, these were relatively minor findings,” said Schweich.

Among what the audit did find was that the Department provided “significant” salary increases to six employees in the past two fiscal years, ranging from 6 to 30 percent for those employees, and increasing annual staff salaries by $51,864. The Department said the increases were based on additional job responsibilities and said it will document future adjustments made based on job duties or classifications.

The audit also found that some program fees in the Department do not cover the costs of those programs, causing them to need more appropriations from General Revenue.

“They’re supposed to be self-sustaining programs and they’re not,” said Schweich.

The report recommends a periodic analysis of fees and expenditures for all fee-funded programs and consideration of adjustment of fees where possible, which the Department says it will undertake.

“We think that either the programs should be scaled back,” said Schweich. “I don’t really like to increase fees on farmers but that would be the other option.”

The audit also found that the Department’s Weights, Measures and Consumer Protection Division failed to inspect some grain moisture meters and scales and petroleum devices as required by law, that its Wine and Grape Board’s annual reports don’t provide information on expenditures made during the year, and that it has not filled positions on boards and commissions in a timely manner and has some members on those boards and commissions beyond their terms’ expiration dates.

Schweich says none of those were “serious findings.”

“I think it’s important to point out when government is working well, and I think the Department of Agriculture is a well-run organization. They were very receptive to our relatively minor criticisms. They intend to correct those programs, and this shows how an auditor and an auditee can work well together, can improve an already good organization, and provide value to the taxpayer,” said Schweich.

See the full audit report here.

 

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.

Ground is broken on Boeing expansion in St. Louis

Boeing 777-9x

Boeing 777-9x

Boeing executives were joined today by Governor Jay Nixon, members of Missouri’s Congressional delegation and state and local elected officials to break ground on the company’s expansion in St. Louis to make parts for its 777X commercial aircraft.

Boeing announced in October it would expand its current composite facility and create up to 700 jobs in St. Louis to make parts for the plane. The facility is scheduled to be completed in 2016, with work on the parts for the plane to begin in 2017.

The project marks the first time Boeing has brought commercial aircraft production to St. Louis. Boeing’s St. Louis facilities have manufactured military aircraft.

Construction of the 367-thousand square-foot expanded facility will also provide up to 250 full-time construction jobs.

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)