State of the State
The Missouri Constitution mandates that the legislature do three things every year: pass a budget and listen to both the governor and the Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court gives speeches. That’s all the constitution requires. This week, we knocked out two of the three.
On Wednesday night, Gov. Nixon gave his seventh State of the State address. His reception was polite, but cold. And his speech was long on rhetoric, but short on details.
He said the legislature should strongly consider toll roads and raising the gas tax to solve a transportation funding shortfall. But he stopped short of explicitly endorsing either. (I’m a yes on tolls and a no on raising the gas tax.)
He called education the “great equalizer” (it is) and asked the legislature to deliver a “clean” transfer bill to his desk. In this case, “clean” is a euphemism for something that passes his ideological litmus test. This was probably the most awkward moment of the speech. When he expressed confidence that the legislature would pass a “clean” bill to his desk, Gov. Nixon was met with silence.
Last year, a bi-partisan, cross-regional coalition of lawmakers endured months of long nights and tense negotiations to put an education reform bill on Gov. Nixon’s desk. We debated big issues and haggled over minutiae. We laughed and swore. Finally, we passed a bill with a veto proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House. Meanwhile, Gov. Nixon never offered a plan. His only engagement was with his veto pen. To his credit, however, Gov. Nixon has already engaged legislative leaders on the transfer issue this year. But after his long self-imposed absence, he cannot reasonably expect appreciation.
Gov. Nixon later called for ethics reform, agreeing with my earlier comments that Missouri has the weakest ethics laws in the country. But again, he failed to offer any details.
Finally, in the strangest part of the speech, Gov. Nixon stopped just short of declaring war on Kansas, which has proposed a 360-mile aqueduct to steal our water from the Missouri River. I doubt there’s any member of the General Assembly who wants Kansas to steal our vital resources. But what’s the action item for the General Assembly? We can’t tell Kansas what to do any more than Kansas can tell us what to do. The battleground likely will be with the Army Corps of Engineers, Congress, or, if necessary, the Supreme Court. But other than beating our chests and passing non-binding resolutions, there’s not much the Missouri legislature can do.
Disappointed with Proposed State Budget
After modest pay increases in three of the last four years, Gov. Nixon did not propose a pay increase for state employees in this year’s budget. This is disappointing. There are other budget items that should be lower priority. One example – an apparent plan to spend $70 million on water infrastructure that would be more appropriate to be borne by ratepayers in the affected areas rather than general taxpayers. On the bright side, health insurance premiums for state employees will not increase. While other Missourians have suffered from rising health insurance costs due to Obamacare, the state budget has consistently held state employees harmless – and Gov. Nixon’s budget proposal continues the practice.
With pay raises absent from the initial proposal, it will be very difficult to get them in the budget at the end – and, of course, they’d be subject to line-item veto. Nevertheless, I will try and am confident that other representatives and senators from mid-Missouri will as well.
State of the Judiciary
On Thursday, Chief Justice Mary Russell delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address. She began her speech with a short note about the crucial role that the right to trial by jury plays (and has always played) in our constitutional republic. It is a right which traces all the way back to the Magna Carta. It was a right cited as a reason for severing ties with England in the Declaration of Independence (“For depriving us in many cases of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”) And it’s a right present in both our federal and state constitutions.
The State of the Judiciary, however, is much different from the State of the State. It’s not appropriate for a judge to opine on the political issues of the day. By necessity then, the speech is limited to extolling general principles of law and explaining how Missouri courts are improving processes and procedures.
Judge Russell’s reception was warm and welcoming. Her “undercover judge” work over the past year has endeared her to legislators and Missourians who appreciate her willingness to personally examine the real-world work of Missouri courts. Her attitude and accessibility is a great example for other judges and for all public officials.
No to Politician Pay Raise Resolution Advances
On Tuesday, the House approved the resolution I sponsored to reject the proposed politician pay raises recommended by the Citizen’s Commission on Elected Official Pay. The final vote was 135 to 13. It now moves to the Senate for consideration, and will be heard by the Senate Committee on Rules Tuesday morning.