February 11, 2016

Treasurer candidate Sen. Schmitt welcomes debate about tax cut proposals (AUDIO)

Republican state Senator Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) ended months of speculation about his political future Wednesday by declaring his candidacy for the State Treasurer’s office in the 2016 campaign cycle.

Senator Eric Schmitt

Senator Eric Schmitt

Schmitt has helped author the major tax cut proposals of the last two legislative sessions, both of which were vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon (D), with the latter of the two vetoes having been overturned. He knows if he becomes the Republican nominee for Treasurer in 2016, those tax cut bills are likely to be focused on by any Democratic opponent. He says he welcomes that debate.

“I hope that this campaign is about issues like reforming our tax code, and again I’m proud of the leadership role that I’ve been able to have in that debate,” says Schmitt. “I think any time we can allow people to keep more of what they earn, people to have more take home pay, that means a lot for families all across this state.”

Schmitt as Treasurer he can draw on his time as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government.

“In that office I think you are uniquely positioned to make sure that people are aware of what that growth strategy is, what it should be for our state, and I’m looking forward to that,” says Schmitt.

Schmitt, a lawyer, cannot seek another term in the Senate. He had been considered a likely candidate for attorney general.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) has already declared his candidacy for Attorney General and House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) has also been considering running for that office. Schmitt says they didn’t factor in his decision not to join that race.

“The treasurer’s office is a natural … there’s alignment there with some of the things I’ve spent a lot of time on and policies I’ve advocated for, so for me that was the office that made sense,” says Schmitt.

One of his priorities during his time in the legislature has been finding ways to help patients and families deal with autism. Schmitt has an autistic son, and says that will remain a priority to him if he is elected Treasurer.

“I empathise and I want to do everything I can in that office to make programs available for folks,” says Schmitt. “One of the things I think I can also bring to that job is I have a good working relationship with both Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, and so to the extent there are priorities that we need to get passed I feel confident working with the legislature to try to move those priorities through.”

At the end of April, Schmitt had more than $866,000 in his campaign account.

AUDIO:  Mike Lear interviews Senator Eric Schmitt, 10:22

MO House Speaker says VA problems support argument against Medicaid expansion (AUDIO)

The Republican Speaker of the Missouri House says recent problems with the Veterans Health Administration support the stance his caucus has taken against Medicaid expansion. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) has been opposed to using federal dollars to expand eligibility for that program in Missouri since Governor Jay Nixon (D) raised the issue in late 2012.

House Speaker Tim Jones (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker Tim Jones (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

He says issues that have come to light  – veterans needing care being on secret waiting lists, some veterans dying while waiting for care, and records being falsified to reflect shorter wait times than actually experienced – illustrate the problems of having government-run a healthcare system.

“We actually look extremely smart and wise in not expanding Medicaid up to this point,” says Jones.

“The VA healthcare system, the federal Obamacare law and state Medicaid systems – the commonality is they’re all run by a form of the government,” says Jones. “The Medicaid system has now got the heavy hand of the federal government trying to use the carrot-and-stick approach of using the federal bill to expand the state systems.”

“We cannot put our heads in the sand and ignore potential similarities and analogies that can be drawn between the federal government running one massive national healthcare system on one hand versus another,” he adds.

Jones says Medicaid must be reformed rather than just have millions more in tax dollars be applied to the current system.

Medicaid expansion is an issue many Democrats running this year for state legislative seats will focus on.

AUDIO:  Jones says running on Medicaid expansion in this year’s campaigns would be a mistake

House Republican leaders: Nixon using fear tactics to back vetoes, overturn attempts uncertain this soon

House Republican leaders accuse Governor Jay Nixon (D) of using fear tactics and overblown numbers in his assessment of the ten tax break bills he vetoed last week, but they don’t yet know if their party will seek to overturn his vetoes.

Nixon says those ten bills would cost state, county and city budgets $776-million dollars in revenue he says would be lost to “sweetheart deals” for special interests. He has been traveling the state to promote his arguments in defense of the vetoes, and telling local governments to leave room in their budgets to absorb the losses he says would be incurred if the legislature overturns those vetoes.

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) tells local governments to use their own analysis.

“Because my impression of what these bills tried to do, what their intent was, was to reign in Governor Nixon’s out of control Department of Revenue, which has been out of control in many ways,” says Jones.

Majority Floor Leader John Diehl (R-Town and Country) says the local government leaders he’s talked to aren’t taking the Governor’s message about those ten bills seriously.

“His playbook of scare tactics is wearing pretty thin with people,” says Diehl of the governor. “He’s cried wolf on numerous different occasions over the past couple of years, none of which have proven to be true.”

Legislative analyst estimates on what the fiscal impact of most of those bills could be are still being updated, but Jones says he’s hearing that Nixon’s estimates are off.

“The consensus is that the governor’s numbers are completely inflated and generally seem to be pulled out of thin air without a lot of backup data,” says Jones. “I know that’s why the proponents of the bills and the sponsors are doing their best to make sure that their analysis is fully supported by the facts. They were comfortable about that the first time around, so we’re just going back and double checking.”

Several House Republicans have alluded to possible attempts to override Nixon’s vetoes of at least one of those bills when lawmakers return for the annual veto session in September, but Diehl says it is premature to predict whether such attempts will be made.

“We will take a look at the governor’s veto message to see if any valid points are raised in the veto message. Here, I don’t think there are any,” says Diehl. “We then take that veto message and the bill and we’ll discuss it as a caucus in August when we all meet again.”

Diehl says House and Senate Republican leaders must also meet before any decisions will be made about addressing the governor’s vetoes.

“I think it’s premature,” says Diehl of announcing overturn attempt now, “but I think there’s a strong possibility that we’ll make efforts to do that.”

See an earlier story on the ten bills vetoed by Governor Nixon

Weighing in on whether to veto the transfer bill and call a special session

Critics of the bill that proposes change to Missouri’s student transfer law say it doesn’t fix anything, and want Governor Jay Nixon (D) to tell lawmakers to try again.

The bill lawmakers sent to Governor Nixon includes a provision that after three years of a district in St. Louis City or County and Jackson County being unaccredited, would allow its local tax dollars to go to a nearby private school if its students transfer there.

Opponents like Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) say that’s all the bill was about, and they want Nixon to veto it.

“I’ve heard from all of my superintendents, I’ve heard from my constituents. I don’t think there’s a superintendent in this state that supports this plan,” says Montecillo. “Those people that understand education and what it takes to improve education outcomes opposed this plan, and yet they continued to refuse to take vouchers off the table. If that’s not about agenda, then explain to me what it is about.”

Nixon has said he opposes any legislation that would let tax dollars go to private schools, but hasn’t said what he will do with this bill.

Some lawmakers say Nixon has indicated to them a veto and special session are coming

He tells reporters he knows he must act soon, with one school district bankrupt and another close to it because of the cost of student transfers.

“We’re going to expedite a review of this bill,” says Nixon. “Obviously I’ll have to make a decision on it relatively quickly because of the fiscal timeframes involved.”

Opponents of the bill want Nixon to call a special session so that a new bill can be created. He has not said whether he will.

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) says if that happens, he wants to see more involvement from the Governor in a solution.

“If the governor vetoes this issue, then he owns it and he has to come up with a solution,” says Jones. “I will challenge him to propose and work with us, like he did in the Boeing special session. You saw that when this governor wants to, he can actually engage with the legislature, be a leader and get things done in a short period of time.”

Montecillo says it’s not up to the Governor to propose a plan.

“We have a plan,” says Montecillo. “The problem that [Republicans] have and what they dislike about that, it is a clean transfer fix. It addresses a single problem facing the state. It is void of the agenda that they want to push and promote.”
Opponents of the bill say the Governor has some leverage over what lawmakers might or might not attempt to put into a bill in a special session through the call he would issue for that session.

House Republicans and Democrats recap 2014 legislative session (VIDEOS)

Both parties in the state House assessed the regular session of the General Assembly after it wrapped up on Friday in back-to-back media conefrences.  Here is the video of those conferences (courtesy Jonathan Lorenz, Missouri House Communications).