Category Archives: Capitol Reports

Capitol Report – Jan. 26, 2017

Chief Justice Breckenridge Addresses the General Assembly

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge delivered the last of the four big speeches at the start of session. I’ve never had much patience for pomp and circumstance. And with this being my seventh session, the novelty has worn off. At the same time, I have come to recognize that these civic rituals are important reminders of the impact the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government have on people’s lives. As old-hat as they may seem, one must endure and appreciate them as symbolic odes to the great responsibilities that come with public service.

In this week’s address, among other points on which I agreed, Chief Justice Breckenridge joined Gov. Greitens’ commitment to raise Missouri state employee salaries out of the cellar, calling for “21st century wages for 21st century work.” I’ve written repeatedly here in support and persistently worked through the budget process to move this from rhetoric to reality. Even in these tight times, I’m hopeful that we can improve state employee pay.

Rejecting Politician Pay Increases

Two years ago, in better fiscal times for the state budget, I sponsored and passed HCR 4 to reject a proposed politician pay increase by Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials. This winter, the Citizens’ Commission proposed another pay hike. The case against it is even stronger now. This time around, Rep. Bernskoetter is handling the rejection resolution. On Tuesday, this year’s version of HCR 4 passed out of the House by a vote of 154 to 5. The Senate has until Wednesday to do the same for the resolution to take effect.

Breaking Up the St. Louis Cab Cabal

“Government works best when it determines the rules of the road, not when it seeks to determine the composition of the traffic.” That quip from law Prof. Richard Epstein is one of my favorites, and it applies across government. Broad, simple, and clear rules of general applicability are better than narrow, complex, and opaque rules with exceptions to the exception. (As I’ve said often in this space: the devil is in the details. In drafting legislation and administrative rules, it is far easier to state this general goal in the abstract than it is to accomplish it in the real world.)

This week, the House passed legislation that fits Epstein’s rule. Under current law, to operate in Missouri, transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft must comply with varying regulations in any municipality in the state in which they wish to operate. In St. Louis, the regulations are particularly ridiculous. There, incumbent cab companies control the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and have the power to keep new competitors out of the marketplace.

This cab cabal has the monopoly power to determine who competes against them and how. Their rulebook is 152 pages long. For a new company to enter the market, it must first obtain a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity from the board controlled by the new company’s potential competitors. Under Rule 203A, the Cab Cabal can base its decision on, among other things, “the color scheme proposed to be used” by the applicant, whether the existing cab companies are already “sufficient to properly meet the needs of the public” or “other relevant facts as the MTC may deem advisable or necessary.” In other words, the Cab Cabal can accept or deny an application for nearly any reason.

House Bill 130, sponsored by Rep. Kirk Mathews, does an end run around the cab cabal. Instead of requiring innovative new companies to kiss the rings of the various local regulators everywhere in the state, HB 130 establishes a simple statewide regulatory regime. This new statewide regulation requires companies to (1) disclose their fares in a transparent fashion, (2) inform riders of their driver’s information before a ride begins, (3) provide their riders with an electronic receipt, (4) implement and enforce a zero tolerance policy for drunk drinking, (5) require driver’s to have insurance, minimal traffic tickets in the past three years, and be at least 19 years old, (6) adopt and enforce a privacy policy protecting the personally identifiable information of riders, and (7) adopt non-discrimination policies.

Uber is active in 81 countries and 563 cities around the world. Incumbent cab companies who currently monopolize or quasi-monopolize their regions oppose them. Naturally, anytime a business enjoys monopoly or near monopoly status, it will do everything it can to maintain the status quo. This week, the Missouri House took a big step to ensure Uber and companies like it will be able to operate everywhere in Missouri. HB 130 passed overwhelmingly, 140 to 16. It’s time to bring this 21st century service into our state.

Carl Vogel and Bob Jones – Winners All the Way

Carl Vogel touched many lives in his role as a public official, business owner, community servant, and family man. His loss is a loss to our entire community. On Wednesday, I attended his funeral and the words of his son Jake struck me as important: the headlines reporting his death said he had “lost” a battle with cancer.  I know it’s just a cliché, but it’s a terrible one. 

Newsflash: we are all terminal. Eventually, something will lead to our passing from this earth. Those who live life with joy, dignity, and faith do not lose when they pass away. Carl Vogel was one of those people. When faced with a terrible diagnosis, he lived his last year without losing his sense of humor or his dignity. Carl Vogel was a winner his whole life – all the way to the end.                             

Many of the same things can be said of the late Cole County Commissioner Bob Jones, who passed away unexpectedly Tuesday morning. Like Carl, Bob could always be found with a smile on his face. He will be missed.

God-willing, they are both smiling down on our community from heaven. May their souls rest in peace.

 

Why We Defend Life

On Thursday, the House passed legislation to prohibit the use of fetal body tissue obtained from an abortion in medical experiments. Every time an abortion bill comes up, the opposition attacks the motives of pro-life representatives. On Thursday, I spoke in favor of House Bill 2069. Though most weeks I spend a few hours writing and editing, this week the text of my extemporaneous floor speech on HB 2069 is better without edits:

Beginning at approximately the 1:55 mark: Mr. Speaker, I rise to make three points. The first is that I believe this body and normal people reject the utilitarian logic that some must, or should die, so that others can live better, particularly when those who die have no choice in the matter. The Lady from St. Louis County uses that word a lot – choice, choice, choice. Where is the choice for the child, Mr. Speaker? Where is the choice for the child in the womb to say, “I want to live, I want to breathe.”?

The second point Mr. Speaker: we heard an earlier person from the other side of the aisle talk about fetal abnormalities, and those are tragic situations for everyone. But a child born with disability is no less a human being worthy of life than anyone else, Mr. Speaker. They are a creation of God. They have dignity. They deserve our legal protection.

And third and finally, Mr. Speaker, the lady from St. Louis County spent a Senate amount of time talking about facts and saying that this body is paying no attention to facts. We also heard people talk about abortion like its’ any old medical procedure – like it’s a knee replacement or a shoulder manipulation.

But Mr. Speaker, here is the ultimate fact: Every single abortion ends with the premature termination of a human life, and a being with a soul. And a life of someone who did not have the opportunity to say, “I want to live.” When we bring these bills to the floor, it is about children. It is giving voice to the voiceless. It is defending the defenseless. Children should not be science experiments, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.

Ethics Bills Moving Towards Gov. Nixon’s Desk

It’s no secret that Missouri has the most lax ethics laws for legislators in the country. Ours is the only state without limits on gifts, campaign contributions, or a reasonable waiting period before a legislator can become a paid lobbyist. For the past four months, we have worked to change that for the better.

In January, Speaker Todd Richardson made ethics a top priority and assigned all ethics bill to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, of which I am the chairman. In past years, we combined all of the ethics proposals into a single bill – and then watched it languish in the last month of session. A big, bulky target, it became easy prey for ethics reform opponents to quietly kill.  

We took a different path this year. Instead of an omnibus bill, the House sent narrow single-subject ethics bills to the Senate. One of these bills has already passed. House Bill 1983, which prohibits legislators from cashing in on their service by being paid as campaign consultants for fellow members or candidates for statewide office, was signed by Gov. Nixon this Thursday.

Now, with four weeks left in session, there are four ethics bills are teed up for debate to be sent to the governor’s desk .

House Bill 2203, which I have sponsored, prohibits candidates (including incumbents) from using their campaign funds to purchase businesses or make other exotic investments. It also requires that, after an elected official has finished their service, they must dispose of their campaign funds before becoming a paid lobbyist. When emptying their former campaign account, a former member is limited to (1) giving refunds to donors, (2) donating the money to charity, or (3) transferring it to a political party committee. This part of the bill was added by the Senate and prevents former members from cashing in on their campaign funds in a later career as a lobbyist.

Finally, the bill prohibits candidates from converting campaign funds into personal use by transferring it to another committee and then receiving compensation from that committee. A conference committee agreed to the final language of the bill this week. And now it simply waits for action by both bodies.

House Bill 2226, which I have sponsored, closes a loophole in our state’s current self-dealing law. Self-dealing laws prevent those who serve in the public trust from profiting directly from their decisions in public service. Under federal law, persons appointed by executive agencies to provide advice and expertise are prohibited from self-dealing. Under current Missouri law, they are not. HB 2226 is awaiting Senate action, and I am confident that it will pass.

As agreed to by a conference committee, House Bill 1979 imposes a six month waiting period before former members of the General Assembly are permitted to become paid lobbyists. On Thursday, it passed the House 131 to 19. It now awaits Senate action.

Finally, House Bill 2166, as passed by the House, enacts a ban on lobbyist expenditures. The Senate debated it previously this session, but still awaits action. I am hopeful that the Senate, too, will pass it and send it to Gov. Nixon.

With just one month left, we have put them in the position to reach Gov. Nixon’s desk. And together, if all of these bills are passed, they will make a significant positive difference in the way your General Assembly operates.  

Budget Week in the Missouri House

The House worked through our $27.3 billion state budget this week. By the time the budget gets to the House floor, the big picture items are nearly set. For example, Medicaid (which receives by far the most money) is an entitlement. It gets what it gets; the legislature can’t cut its ample share of the pie.

Education spending is another example. Every year the Budget Committee determines the amount that will be spent on the Foundation Formula for K-12 education. And once that budget bill hits the floor, that appropriation is the third-rail. Anyone who tries to reduce it on the House floor should brace themselves for 750 volts.

Here’s the big picture for the budget (see the pie chart below for an illustration):

First, it’s not in the chart, but this includes a two percent pay increase for state employees. Slow but steady progress is the best path for us to lift state employee pay out of the national cellar. This raise isn’t as much as I might like, but it is continued progress.

Second, the budget includes $9.8 billion in Medicaid spending, a four percent increase from last year. That’s more than one out of every three dollars in the state budget that goes to health care for Missourians who are elderly, disabled, or live in poverty.

Education is our second largest category. The state budget includes $6 billion for K-12 education and $1.3 billion for higher education. Next comes transportation, which, funded nearly entirely through dedicated taxes, receives $2.2 billion in funds.

The transportation budget includes the Highway Patrol. In recent weeks, some people have talked about moving Highway Patrol out of the transportation budget. Senate Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer disagrees and so do I. I think it’s a bad idea and would fight against it.

Even though the big picture items are complete, there is still plenty of debate and work left to do once the budget hits the floor. This week I successfully made two amendments to the budget.

The first amendment I added transfers $1 million from the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri to Lincoln University for the explicit purpose of being used for agricultural research in conjunction with its status as a land-grant university. This amendment brought Lincoln’s total agriculture research appropriation from $0 recommended by Gov. Nixon to $2 million. In effect, however, it will be double that because Lincoln is eligible for matching federal grants.

The debate on this amendment was intense and the vote was close – 83 to 78. It would not have passed without bi-partisan support and the help of other representatives in floor debate. In particular, Rep. Josh Peters (D-St. Louis) helped by pointing out that Mizzou leadership had a $1.8 discretionary spending account last year. Locally, Rep. Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) helped move votes our way by talking about the impact Lincoln has on students within his district.

Lincoln is eligible for up to $5.6 million in matching grants from the federal government so I’m hopeful that the Senate will add even more to this line item.

The second amendment I added transfers responsibility for paying the current bond payments on the building formerly known as the Edward Jones Dome from the Office of Administration to the State Treasurer.

Due to my columns alone, this newspaper has probably paid for more ink about the stadium saga than any other issue affecting state government. Since I’ve probably spent 5,000 or more words on it already, I won’t detail how that transpired. However, it’s fair to say that no one in the legislature wants it to happen again.

By transferring responsibility for making the payment from OA to our independent State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, we are effectively appointing a trusted escrow agent to ensure that the money is held and paid for the purpose the legislature desires. This avoids a standoff on whether to make the appropriation at all. It should also remove any thought Gov. Nixon might have about unilaterally indebting a generation of Missourians for funding a new stadium with your tax dollars.

Finally, the House budget reduces appropriations to the University of Missouri system by $8.7 million. This is less than two percent of their total appropriation from state government and less than a 0.28 percent reduction in the system’s overall $3.1 billion budget. Just to be clear, that’s not a typo. For every thousand dollars in the UM System budget, the Missouri House cut $2.80, a big cup of coffee.

Some have alleged these reductions are overly punitive, vindictive, and will harm students. I disagree. The most obvious reason is that the overall reduction is tiny compared with the system’s overall budget. The second reason is that the reduction relates to performance. Since last fall’s conflagrations, Mizzou has suffered significant enrollment reductions for next fall. Students are quite literally voting with their feet and leaving campus. With fewer students, there should be reduced appropriations.

Third, and finally, sometimes you have to tell the people and institutions you love that they’re traveling down the wrong path. To my knowledge, I’m one of only two members of the Missouri House who are double-graduates of Mizzou – first as an undergrad and then in law school. I’m far from a Mizzou-hater. I am a proud alumnus. Over the last seven months, I’ve been dismayed to see our state’s flagship university dragged through the muck in the national media. Unfortunately, I think the university’s leadership has largely created this problem and needs to take further steps to fix it.

 

Gov. Nixon’s Chance to Do the Right Thing on ASARCO

Three weeks ago, I had not heard of ASARCO. Three years from now, I hope most people in Missouri politics won’t recall it. What happens next is up to Gov. Nixon.

ASARCO is the American Smelting and Refining Company. It’s been around since 1899. In 2005, it filed the largest environmental bankruptcy in U.S. history. Eventually, a federal bankruptcy court in Texas approved the creation of a $1.79 billion settlement fund  to be shared amongst federal and state agencies charged with protecting the environment.

Missouri’s portion of the case was settled in 2007 when ASARCO agreed to pay nearly $35 million for environmental damages at five sites in southeast Missouri’s lead mining district. The ASARCO settlement was specific about where that money could be spent.  The bankruptcy court ordered ASARCO settlement funds to be segregated by each site and limited spending to “restoration activities at or in connection with each” of the five sites.

By far, the biggest settlement was for sites on the Big River. With interest, that settlement account holds approximately $33 million today. Other settlements were created for the West Fork and Sweetwater mines in Reynolds County (now worth a combined $3.8 million), the Glover Smelter in Iron County (now worth $2.5 million), and the Madison County Mine in Madison County (now worth $1.6 million).

The area needs environmental remediation. For example, the Department of Natural Resources lists 93 miles of the Big River as “impaired” and has found that 75 miles of sediments in the Big River are contaminated. Not surprisingly, St. Francois County residents would like to use ASARCO settlement funds to clean up the areas ASARCO damaged. In Madison County, local officials want to use the $1.6 million in ASARCO settlement funds to clean-up the Fredericktown City Lake, the only water-supply for a town of 4,000 Missourians.

Three trustees control the settlement funds: the state of Missouri through the Department of Natural Resources, and the federal government through representatives of the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service. Before the trustees can spend the money, they have to create a plan that’s subject to public hearings. On September 2, the trustees held a “public” meeting – notice of which was not posted ahead of time on the DNR website.

At the meeting, the trustees revealed a plan to spend more than $20 million of the settlement “off-site,” including a substantial portion of the acquisition of land and creation of a new state park in Oregon County. The first question should be obvious: what does Oregon County have to do with this settlement?

The answer: nothing. The trustees’ presentation included a map of the affected “Southeast Missouri Lead Mining District” – and Oregon County doesn’t even appear on the map.

Indeed, the Oregon County property isn’t even in the same watershed where most of the environmental damage occurred. The Oregon County property is on the Eleven Points River, which flows south, joining the Black and Spring Rivers near Black Rock, Arkansas then the White River near Jacksonport, Arkansas. The Big River runs north, joins the Meramec and then runs into the Mississippi just south of St. Louis. The water molecules of the Big River don’t have the opportunity to interact with the water molecules of the Eleven Points in the Mississippi River until a point near Gunnison, Mississippi – two hours south of Memphis.

Public hearings and open government have multiple purposes. First, there’s the underlying democratic value of accountability. Second, public hearings are the process through which ideas can be vetted. Some ideas appear sound in the cocoon of a small group, but flaws are revealed when shared with the public.

Whosever idea it was to spend the ASARCO funds on a new state park ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. Gov. Nixon has a passion for conservation and state parks. Others have criticized his effort to build a new state park at Camp Zoe. I’m hopeful that it will become the jewel of our state park system and a tourist attraction for both Missourians and visitors from throughout the United States.

But passion also blinds. What’s obvious to outsiders is not so to those with a singular focus. I believe that’s exactly what has happened with DNR and the other trustees’ plan for the ASARCO settlement. To DNR and the trustees’ credit, they have extended the public comment period for their plan and set a  a new public hearing date. It’s expected that the Missourians whose communities ASARCO pollution actually impacted  will offer alternatives. In the great disinfectant of a public hearing, they’ll get to make their case that spending the money to clean up drinking water supplies for Missourians is more important than creating a new state park. Likewise, they’ll have the opportunity to point out that clean-up on the Big River, where the pollution actually occurred, is not only where the money allocated to the Big River sites must be spent under the settlement, but where good public policy dictates it should be spent.

On Friday, Speaker Todd Richardson appointed me chairman of a House committee to look into DNR’s ASARCO plan. I’m hopeful that we won’t even have a hearing. The buck stops at the governor’s desk. On ASARCO, Gov. Nixon has the opportunity to do the right thing: direct DNR to scrap the plan to divert money away from needs in the impacted areas. Clean drinking water is more important than a new state park.  

America: Forever the Great Hope

Last Sunday a Letter to the Editor asked how anyone could think America need to take refugees from war-torn Arab nations. It argued that such refugees should not be allowed to stay because they “won’t fight to save their own nations” and that Westerners were “dummies” to give them shelter.  

Why should America take religious and other refugees? I’ll start with the words of Ronald Reagan from his famous speech called “A Time for Choosing” in 1964. “Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refugee,” Reagan explained. “And in the midst of his story one of my friends turned to the other and said ‘We don’t know how lucky we are.’ And the Cuban stopped and said, ‘How lucky you are? I had someplace to escape to.’ And in that sentence he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

Reagan ended with a famous line. “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny,” he said. “We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on Earth, or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”

The greatest threat to freedom in 1964 was Soviet Communism. The greatest threat today is ISIS and its savage ilk who are forcing hundreds of thousands of Christians, Muslims, and others from their homes in the Middle East. These refugees have created a humanitarian crisis in Europe, and there are no easy answers.

Those who would deny refugee status to all of those fleeing ISIS bring to mind the tragic voyage of the St. Louis steamship in 1939, which carried 937 Jews fleeing Hitler across the Atlantic Ocean only to be denied entry in Havana and the United States. They left port on May 13 in Hamburg, Germany and arrived in Havana on May 27 to be turned away. After leaving Havana, the ship came so close to the U.S. that they could see the lights of Miami. Passengers on the ship begged the State Department and President Roosevelt to allow them to enter. Their requests were ignored and on June 6, the ship set sail back to Europe. Some found refuge in Great Britain and others re-settled on continental Europe. For those who disembarked on the continent, their refuge proved all too brief. Nearly half died in the Holocaust.

The St. Louis is a relative anomaly in American history. Rather than turning away the persecuted, America actually has a long history of sheltering those suffering for their religion or other status. Historically, Missouri has been more welcoming of those fleeing religious prosecution than other states – particularly mid-Missouri. The Catholics who built Westphalia, Hermann, Freeburg, and other communities in mid-Missouri were fleeing religious persecution in Germany and seeking fellow Germans in America.

And, of course, we descendants of German Catholic immigrants in mid-Missouri are the heirs of just one tiny pocket of religious exiles. In fact, the Pilgrims journeyed to Plymouth Rock precisely to flee religious persecution, and, according to the Library of Congress, early colonists fled European societies where “non-conformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics.”

Does that sound like anything happening today? It should. It’s exactly what happened to Jews in Hitler’s Germany. And it’s also what ISIS is doing.

Both Christians and Muslims are fleeing. The CBS program 60 Minutes reported in March that more than 125,000 Christians in Iraq had been expelled from their homes where they and their ancestors have lived since the first century after Christ. Imagine what fear drove those families to abandon their homes? The 60 Minutes story reported that, “for the first time in 2,000 years, there are no Christians left inside Mosul.” Archbishop Nicodemus Sharaf of the Syriac Orthodox Church told Lara Logan, “They take everything from us, but they cannot take the God from our hearts, they cannot.”

“Just like the Nazis marked the property of the Jews,” Logan explained.. “Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with this red symbol. It’s the Arabic letter N – for Nasara – an early Islamic term for Christians. When ISIS puts it on your home, you either convert to Islam, pay an extortion tax or face the sword.”

I was amazed that last Sunday’s letter castigated the refugees for abandoning their homes and failing to fight ISIS. Does the writer really expect three year-old Aylan Kurdi and his mother to take up arms against the ISIS thugs who would, in the best case scenario, rape and enslave them?

I understand the fear associated with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Unlike previous refugee groups, ISIS could slip members into those fleeing.  (Those who denied the Jews on the St. Louis refuge claimed it was a ship full of communists.) It’s also obvious that the United States should not have to carry the heaviest load. At some point, it’s hoped that they will be able to return to their homeland.

I know this won’t be popular in all quarters in this time where a temporarily popular presidential candidate has promised to reject all Syrian refugees without exception. But I’m not willing to abandon America’s heritage as a refuge for persecuted religious minorities. Nor will I stand silent while others advocate actions that would enable modern-day Hitlers to perpetrate another Holocaust.

There has to be an appropriate screening system in place. We have to be discerning. Our nation has the right of self-defense to turn away those who would do us harm. Further, we can’t take everyone. But to suggest that we turn our backs on all refugees, including those who can prove their innocence and good will, is both un-Christian and un-American. Those refugees (Christian and Muslim) who can pass a thorough background check should be welcome in Europe and the United States – like the Jewish passengers on the St. Louis should have been welcomed ashore when fleeing Hitler.

Reagan believed America was the last great hope for man on earth. I believe that’s still true today. If America listens to those who would completely abandon our role as the protectors of the persecuted, that last best hope on Earth will be extinguished forever. Far better to move carefully, but in the spirit of Reagan and the Pilgrims than to abandon a fundamental American value. America has always been and should forever remain a safe haven for religious refugees.

A Moving Memorial in Jefferson City

On Thursday, I was privileged to attend the opening ceremony for the Moving Wall – a replica of the Vietnam memorial – in Jefferson City. The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago, but the valor of Americans who served in our Armed Forces in the hot conflicts of the Cold War lives on. This Moving Wall is a profound reminder of the tremendous sacrifice and losses our nation shared from Vietnam. Seeing those 52,000 names etched in white is overwhelming. It’s takes your breath away to look at each name and think of them as the father or mother, sister or brother, husband or wife, son, daughter, or friend that they were. 

In listening to the speakers and the ceremony, I could not help but think of parallels to today. Vietnam was the largest, but just one of the several conflicts that comprised the Cold War – a four decade fight between those who love and cherish freedom against an ideology that would subordinate the individual to the collective mass, effectively enslaving millions of people. As Ronald Reagan would say – in the end, we won, they lost. Freedom reigned, tyranny waned.

Today, after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fight for freedom continues as ISIS and its ilk marches through the Middle East and chases moderate Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghanis from their homes and everything they know. God-less Communism has been replaced by Theocratic Terrorism as the greatest threat to freedom in the world.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were controversial like Vietnam and have caused similar American soul-searching about our nation’s role in the world. The extent of our national responsibility to fight for freedom elsewhere is a constant source of political conflict. That debate – and the freedom to have it – is part of what makes America great. We decide political differences here at the ballot box, not in show trials or gulags. The fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers memorialized on the Vietnam Wall made the ultimate sacrifice to defend that and other freedoms. These Americans deserve our eternal respect and remembrance – and the Moving Wall effectively honors their service.

Ensuring Economic Sanity in St. Louis and Kansas City

Economics 101 says when you increase the price of a product or service, fewer people will buy it. When the price goes up, demand goes down. Some people believe that this basic rule of economics doesn’t apply to workers at the lower end of the pay scale. But politicians can’t suspend the laws of gravity or economics.

Experience shows that increases in the minimum wage decrease employment – particularly large increases. Seattle offers the latest evidence. In June 2014, the Seattle City Council voted to raise their minimum wage to $15 an hour in a stair-step approach. The first increase, to $11, took effect on April 1 of this year.

In a recent analysis, Prof. Mark Perry from the University of Michigan reviewed key labor measures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that Seattle restaurants  (the sector most impacted by the minimum wage) cut 1,000 jobs in May – the largest one-month decline since January 2009 and the first significant decrease since the fall of 2011. Fortunately, Seattle’s restaurant industry was isolated in this job loss. Seattle’s overall employment in May increased by 21,800 jobs or 1.2 percent. And restaurants elsewhere did not suffer. Nationally, restaurant employment increased by 1.2 percent, and in non-Seattle areas of Washington state, restaurant employment increased by 3.2 percent.

Not long after Seattle increased its minimum wage, local politicians in St. Louis and Kansas City started discussing similar ideas for our two largest cities. In St. Louis, alderman approved a stair-step increase to $11 an hour. In Kansas City, a referendum was placed on the ballot to increase the wage to $15 an hour.

House Bill 722 started as a silly, if not stupid, bill. When first passed by the House, it prohibited local governments from banning plastic bags or taxing them. I can’t remember any other time I did this, but I voted “present” on the bill when it was just the “bag bill.” Call it a protest vote. I don’t support cities banning plastic bags or taxing them. Yet, at the same time, plastic bags are not a topic worthy of two seconds of floor time in the legislature. We shouldn’t be micro-mananging municipal minutiae.

Then Senator Kehoe made the bill meaningful by adding an amendment ensuring that we have a uniform statewide minimum wage by prohibiting local governments from increasing it. Governor Nixon vetoed the bill. Last week, the legislature overrode it.

Those arguing to uphold the veto argued the bill was an improper infringement on local control, comparing the bill to the federal government placing a mandate on the states. This argument misses the critical distinction between federalism – the relationship between the federal government and the states – versus the relationship between states and municipalities.

The federal government is the creation of independent states that existed before the federal government. The federal government is one of limited powers (at least in theory, unfortunately not, it seems, in reality). Those powers were granted to the federal government by the Constitution with the individual states reserved as the building blocks of American government.

The states also created cities and other local governments. As explained by the Missouri Supreme Court, “A municipal corporation is a creature of the legislature possessing only those powers expressly granted, or those necessarily or fairly implied in or incidental to express grants.”
As a general rule, local control is better than the alternative. It’s also the most abused argument in the Capitol. (A close second: the claim that spending X amount of your tax dollars will result in X times Y in a return to taxpayers.) Local control is a value in itself, but unlike life or liberty, it’s not an overriding value. (If you think otherwise, ask yourself why we have a Bill of Rights.) In Missouri’s capitol, “local control” is most often a desperate talking point of those who hope to avoid an argument on the merits.

Local decisions are better for several obvious reasons. First, those in an affected community are in a better position to know the right policy for their community. Second, those who disagree can always “vote with their feet” if they don’t like local control decisions.

And this second decision is why HB 722 was important to people throughout Missouri. It’s one thing if municipalities make decisions that make life slightly less enjoyable for some citizens. It’s quite another for them to take actions that chase jobs out of our state – particularly when it’s the two largest cities in our state, each of which compete with neighboring states for jobs. When St. Louis and Kansas City do dumb things that cause job loss, it hurts everyone in our state. With HB 722 now law, they won’t have that power any longer on the minimum wage.

Right to Work – Freedom of Association Should Work Both Ways

The legislature overrode Gov. Nixon 10 more times this week, making him Missouri’s most overridden governor – ever.   These bills ran the political spectrum, but one that failed garnered the most attention. The effort to override Gov. Nixon’s veto of right to work legislation fell 13 votes short.

The Right to Work issue is simple to state: should Missourians have a statutory right to freedom of association regarding their employment? In right to work states, unions and employers are forbidden from forcing someone to join a union as condition of employment. 

Right to work has been an issue for decades. In 1947, the Taft-Hartley Act allowed states to enact laws protecting their citizens’ freedom to choose whether or not to join a union. Since Taft-Hartley, twenty-five states have passed right to work laws. Seventeen states passed RTW before 1960. Three more passed it between 1963 and 1985. Then Oklahoma passed it in 2001. Indiana and Michigan passed it in 2012. And Wisconsin passed it in 2015. Missouri is nearly surrounded. Of our neighbors, all but Illinois is RTW. (Kentucky has RTW county-by-county.)

Right to Work encompasses two consistent conflicts in the capitol that range across a wide variety of issues.

First, RTW involves a clash between collectivism and individual liberty. As your state representative, my governing philosophy is always to first look at an issue from the individual’s perspective. I believe in a government of limited powers that exists principally to protect individual rights – not empower those who would force someone else to do something against their will. Rights are inherently individual. Forced collectivism destroys individual rights because it makes the individual subordinate to the group.

These individual rights are most clearly expressed in the Bill of Rights, where the First Amendment guarantees the rights to freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, to petition government, and, implicitly, freedom of association. The Bill of Rights protects us against overreaching government. Federal and state statutes make these rights stronger by applying the same principles to protect individuals against others. 

As your representative, I have consistently voted to increase or protect your individual rights against government, unions, and big business. For example, corporate welfare tax breaks erode every citizen’s right to equal treatment under the law. We shouldn’t have two tax codes – one for those wealthy and savvy enough to grease the gears of government and a separate one for small business owners and working families. I’ve consistently fought these giveaways in favor of legislation reducing the tax burden for all Missourians – including this week during veto session. 

Second, RTW is another example of an unbending rule of politics: those who enjoy legal monopoly power over others will do everything they can to keep it. When government creates any law or regime that allows an organization (public or private) to compel others to pay money or do things against their will, the monopoly organization will never give it up without a huge fight.

I can understand why union executives fear right to work. Under existing law, they can force workers in their bargaining units to pay dues they don’t want to pay. In right-to-work states, the bosses have to prove their value to all members, not just the 50 percent plus one involved in a union election.

If they only listen to their union leaders, I can understand why many union members fear RTW as well. Their bosses tell them it’s a right to work for less and claim that it will lower wages. Facts, however, are stubborn things. Yes, average wages in RTW states are lower. But the RTW states started with average wages far behind non-RTW states. More importantly, it’s undeniably true that RTW states have grown at significantly higher rates over the past 50 years than non-RTW states. That’s true not just of the overall economy of RTW states, but also of median household incomes.

The most recent evidence that right-to-work improves the economy and does not lower wages comes from Michigan and Indiana – two union strongholds that recently passed RTW. In 2012, in the run-up to their changing the law, RTW opponents followed their traditional argument, claiming it was a “right to work for less.” After decades of losing jobs, Michigan led the nation in manufacturing job growth last year – increasing total manufacturing jobs by 4 percent in a single year, more than triple the national average. Indiana enjoyed similar success – increasing manufacturing jobs by 3.1 percent, making it third in the nation. (Second place? Wyoming, yet another RTW state.) Meanwhile, there is no evidence that wages decreased in Michigan or Indiana after RTW passed.  

Defending individual liberty is an American virtue. If freedom of association means anything, it must mean that workers have the ability to organize without interference from their employer or any other third-party. The right to organize is a hallmark of free society. But it must also mean that employees who don’t want to join should not be forced. Freedom of association is, necessarily, a two-way street. The RTW proposal we voted on this week is balanced. It also prohibits employers from conditioning employment on an employee refraining from becoming a member of a labor organization. It enforces the prohibition under state law by making it a misdemeanor and creating a cause-of-action to enforce it.

Right to work is not going away. Its short-term fate in Missouri likely hinges on next year’s gubernatorial election.