Gary Cross: Capitol Update
February 8, 2014
House Committee Considers Paycheck Protection Legislation
This week the House Workforce Development and Workforce Safety Committee met to discuss legislation that is commonly referred to as paycheck protection. The bill is meant to change the way public employee unions collect and use member dues. Specifically, it would require a union to obtain annual written consent from its members in order to automatically deduct dues from their paychecks. The bill also would require the union to obtain similar consent before using the fees for political activities.
Supporters of the change believe it is necessary to protect workers from having their dues utilized to fund political causes or candidates they do not support. They say it would give workers a much-needed level of control over whether their dues are automatically deducted, as well as over how the dues are used. Opponents of the idea say it is simply an attempt to weaken unions in Missouri. They say that union members already have the ability to opt out of having their dues used for political purposes.
This will be an interesting discussion this session as we weigh the merits of this potential change. The General Assembly did pass a similar bill last year that was ultimately vetoed by the governor. If passed by the House and Senate, this yearís proposal would not require the governorís signature and would instead be placed on the August 2014 ballot for voter approval.
House Committee Approves Legislative Check on Governorís Budget Authority
As the governor has continued to withhold funding from the current state operating budget many members of the House have looked for a method to stop what they say is an abuse of the Missouri Constitution. At issue, is the fact the governor has withheld hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when our revenues are growing at a healthy rate. While the state constitution clearly spells out that the governor may withhold funds only during a budget shortfall, many have pointed to the fact the governor has withheld money even when the state has funds available.
To deal with this issue, the House General Laws Committee approved a proposed constitutional amendment to provide the legislature with an effective check and balance to the governorís budget authority. In effect it would allow the legislature to override a decision made by the governor to withhold funding in the same way the legislature can override a governorís veto. Under the amendment, a decision by the governor to withhold funding or alter the rate of appropriations would require a proclamation to the legislature. House and Senate members would then have the option of overriding the decision with a two-thirds vote.
This is a change supporters say is necessary to curb the governorís abuse of his budget authority and to restore balance to the branches of government. They say this proposal is a fair compromise that allows the governor to have flexibility in making spending decisions but that also provides the legislature with effective oversight to ensure the governor does not have unchecked power. Opponents of the measure say the current budget process has worked well and that making a change to the constitution could have unintended consequences.
This is an issue that will receive a great deal of discussion going forward. If it makes it through both the House and Senate it would end up on the November ballot where voters would decide if this is a good change for Missouri.
Budget Bills Filed in the House
This week House Budget Chairman Rick Stream filed the appropriations bills that will make up the Fiscal Year 2015 operating budget. While in most years the budget committee would use the governorís proposed budget as a starting point for the state spending plan, this yearís budget will use last yearís numbers as a starting baseline. The root cause for this is that the spending plan proposed by the governor is based on a revenue growth number that House and Senate budget leaders feel is unrealistic.
The end result is that the governorís spending proposal calls for $27.7 billion in spending for the coming fiscal year. In contrast, the House will work from last yearís spending plan that checked in at $24.8 billion. That number will increase as the House Budget Committee allocates some of the expected revenue growth to vital state services such as education, but it is clear that the legislature is not willing to expand the budget to the levels the governor has proposed.
Update on Propane Gas Pricing
As the frigid temperatures continue, Missourians who rely on propane for their heat continue to wait for good news. Some relief has come as propane prices that spiked to in excess of $5 per gallon have now settled closer to the $3 range. In addition, the governor this week announced that he will make $15 million available to help offset the higher-than-normal prices for lower-income residents. The money will be available through federal governmentís Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the governor has declared that households can receive double the amount normally available for propane assistance.
At the same time, the Missouri House continues to look into this issue. Our House Utilities Committee approved a resolution this week calling on the United States Department of Justice to launch an investigation into alleged price gouging. As we know more than 245,000 Missourians rely on propane to heat their homes, and many of our livestock owners rely on propane as well, this is an issue that will continue to take center stage in Jefferson City as we work to ensure Missourians are not being victimized by propane gas suppliers looking to turn a bigger profit. As this situation continues to develop I will do my best to keep you updated.
I do appreciate your input on matters of importance to you, your family, and community. If, at any time, you have questions, concerns or ideas to improve our state government and the quality of life for Missouri citizens, please feel free to contact me at 573-751-1459 or e-mail me at email@example.com. Thank you for taking an active role by voicing your opinions on our state and national government issues. Thank you for the honor to serve the 35th District.