Category Archives: Capitol Reports

Ending the Medicaid Poverty Trap With Welfare Reform

As Pope Francis has explained, “Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work…‘anoints’ us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God” and “gives one the ability to maintain oneself, one’s family, to contribute to the growth of one’s own nation.”

In 1996, President Clinton and a Republican Congress enacted welfare reform legislation requiring welfare recipients to work. The concept is simple. Americans – and Missourians – are not stingy when it comes to helping people who are willing to help themselves. We’re willing to help those who have fallen on hard times temporarily so that they may get back on their feet. But we aren’t willing to continue to distribute hard-earned taxpayer dollars to people who show no personal responsibility and would rather live off a government check. Welfare programs should be a safety net for the industrious, not a hammock for the indolent.

For the able-bodied, a life without work is a life lacking purpose. Welfare reform rejected the idea that certain people were destined for a lifetime of poverty and unable to help themselves. It insisted that they use their talents to live a productive life. And it worked. Employment and earnings for single mothers increased significantly. Welfare caseloads decreased. The Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank, concluded welfare reform “has been a triumph for the federal government and the states – and even more for single mothers.”

House Bill 1901, which I have co-sponsored, attempts to bring the principles of welfare reform to our state Medicaid program by requiring able-bodied Medicaid recipients to participate in the workforce to remain eligible for Medicaid. Under the current system, it is morally reprehensible but economically rational for a person at the lowest end of the income scale to refuse work in order to remain eligible for Medicaid. Consider a single mother who makes $3,000 a year. If she accepts a job that pays her an additional $5,000 per year, she loses health care coverage worth approximately $5,200. It is economically rational for her to refuse the new job because. After all, she’s essentially working for free. But by turning down this first job, she’s much less likely to get the next job which may lift her out of poverty. The current system is a welfare trap.

HB 1901 moves Missouri out of the welfare trap. It compels capable recipients to work, and it rewards such work by increasing eligibility for the working poor. By passing this bill, Missouri could lead the nation in bringing welfare reform to Medicaid.

On Monday, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability heard three other bills designed to ensure welfare benefits are reserved for those who need it most and to improve health outcomes of recipients.

House Bill 1861, sponsored by Rep. Wanda Brown, is a direct response to an expose from Auditor Tom Schweich, who uncovered 366 cases of welfare recipients spending Missouri welfare benefits for several months in other states, including one such recipient, for five months, in the Virgin Islands. HB 1861 would bar benefits for any recipient who doesn’t use them in Missouri for 90 days – eliminating wasteful and fraudulent entitlement spending by recipients who are no longer Missourians.

House Bill 1864, also sponsored by Rep. Brown, requires the Department of Social Services to use data analytics software to cross-check the eligibility of welfare recipients to ensure that they are indeed eligible. The department estimates that it will save at least $4 million a year in Medicaid. As chairman of the committee, I plan to combine these bills and require an eligibility cross-check for recipients who have left the state, likely increasing savings.

House Bill 1879, which I sponsored, encourages healthier lifestyles for food stamp recipients by starting a pilot project to provide bonuses for purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables at Missouri  farmers’ markets. The goal of this legislation is to help fight the public health crisis of obesity. We know that eating fresh fruits and vegetables leads to better health, but they aren’t always available or affordable for food stamp recipients. This bill gives an added incentive and ability for recipients to eat healthier foods. Plus, the bill benefits local farmers and small business owners by growing the market of people likely to buy their homegrown goods.

The committee will combine these bills and a few others to create a welfare reform omnibus bill, carried by Rep. Brown, to save taxpayer money and reduce waste, fraud, and abuse.

Growing Our Economy by Encouraging Small Business Growth

Over the past twenty years, Missouri has spent a lot of time and way too much taxpayer money on centrally-planned economic development programs that hand taxpayer subsidies out to the privileged few and ignore the small businesses and entrepreneurs that are the backbone of our economy.

This approach has failed. Missouri lags behind our neighbors in economic growth. Most striking is the contrast between Missouri and Tennessee, a state with similar demographics and geography but no state income tax. Over the past 17 years, private sector economic activity in Tennessee has grown 120 percent faster than in Missouri. Likewise, if you look nation-wide, states with no income taxes have grown 150 percent faster than states with high taxes.

In December, I voted against legislation to give a $2.4 billion subsidy to a single company. I don’t believe it’s appropriate for the state legislature to pick winners and losers by directing massive subsidies to big corporations who know how to work the halls of the Capitol and grease the skids at the Department of Economic Development.

Gov. Nixon understands that tax rates matter. Promptly after the $2.4 billion subsidy bill passed, Gov. Nixon’s DED sent a letter to Boeing informing it of the package he would offer. In a moment of intellectual clarity and in the very first substantive paragraph of that letter, DED argued Boeing should consider Missouri because we are a low tax state.

This week, the Missouri House took a step in a better direction. HB 1253 provides tax relief to small business owners by reducing the tax rate on “pass-through” income from six to three percent. If passed into law, this would give Missouri one of the ten lowest marginal tax rates in the entire country.

Gov. Nixon has taken to calling HB 1253 a tax cut “for lawyers and lobbyists.” But only a politician who’s been in office for three decades could say such a thing with a straight face. HB 1253 reduces the tax burden for farmers, pharmacists, florists, doctors, tech start-ups, accountants, dentists, restaurant owners, mechanics, landscapers, engineers, small manufacturers, and many, many more. This tax cut encourages job growth for the small businesses that fuel economic growth – the shopkeepers and entrepreneurs that have made our country great.

House Democrats offered an alternative of their own this week. Their solution would hike the top marginal tax rate in Missouri to eight percent. If you consider earnings taxes in St. Louis and Kansas City, the Democrat’s “tax solution” would give Missouri the fifth highest marginal tax rate in the entire country – higher than Massachusetts and New York. This solution would chase even more jobs out of our state – particularly in Kansas City.

After listening to debate this week, I think I’ve figured out why. In the Democrats’ world, it’s all about the theory of “fairness.” They want to raise the top marginal income tax rate because it’s only fair that those who work hard to make more money have to pay not just more taxes, but also at a higher tax rate.

Their arguments reminded me of a comment President Obama made in a presidential debate when he was a candidate in 2008.  The debate moderator reminded then-candidate Obama that raising the capital gains tax rate had resulted in lower government revenue while, paradoxically, lowering the rate had resulted in higher government revenue. To Obama, this didn’t matter. His proposal to raise the capital gains rate was for the “purpose of fairness.” That’s right, never mind the real-world results, the motivation is to make it seem like things are fairer – even if it results in less revenue for government.

Fairness is a virtue. But President Obama and House Democrats’ theory on taxes is anything but fair.  It’s not fair, and it doesn’t make any sense, to target successful small business owners and doctors with the 5th highest marginal income tax rate in the country. It’s not fair for anyone to hike taxes on the few without even increasing government revenues. That’s a tax policy based on punishment, not fairness.

The better approach is to encourage entrepreneurship and job growth through lower taxes for those Missourians who work hard and make the courageous decision to start their own small business. That’s exactly what HB 1253 does, and why I was pleased to support it.

Education Establishment Asks State Board to Pretend It Has a Magic Wand

On Tuesday, the state’s education establishment joined together to offer a “plan” to fix struggling schools in our state. Their plan is simple. It asks the State Board of Education to wave its magic wand and declare a struggling district cured through a simple administrative pronouncement. Here’s how it would work. Once the State Board declared a district unaccredited, the district could enter into a contract with the State Board promising to improve… and presto!, the district would magically be declared provisionally accredited.

This plan doesn’t require any evidence of actual improvement, and it makes a joke of the accreditation process. It changes the school accreditation process from one which requires accountability to one which perpetuates failure without consequence. It’s geared toward protecting existing power structures rather than ensuring substantive changes to improve the lives of Missouri families with students trapped in struggling schools. In addition, it arguably violates the letter of existing state laws and undoubtedly violates the intent of SB 125, the education reform bill I helped pass just last year.

In recent years, the State Board has shown it has the political courage to make difficult decisions regarding struggling districts, and it’s my hope that the Board will continue that tradition. 

Zip Code Should Not Determine Destiny

Increasing Opportunity for Low-Income Students
A child’s zip code should not determine their destiny. For more than two centuries, America has been the greatest nation in history because of the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Indeed, Americans are the most free to realize their full potential through their own “pursuit of happiness.”The up-by-the-bootstraps story is fundamental to the American identity. Regardless of what you think of President Obama’s politics, his presidency is a living testament to upward mobility in America. The son of a Kenyan immigrant and a Kansas farm-girl, there aren’t many places in the world where a man with that background could become president. The same can be said of House Speaker John Boehner, who was born to a family of modest means. These stories are, of course, not limited to elected officials. Consider Missouri’s own Sam Walton, or Jack Dorsey of St. Louis, founder of Twitter, among other countless examples.Over the last 40 years, however, the American dream has been slipping away in some zip codes. A recent Harvard study found that children born in poverty in Kansas City and St. Louis are approximately 50 percent less likely to eventually earn a middle to upper-class income than their same aged peers born in poverty in mid-Missouri.Liberals see stats like these and oft ask how government can ensure an “equality of stuff.” The left’s solution is generally geared towards centralized power and a redistribution of wealth from cradle-to-grave to make society more equal. What the progressive often believes works best is more rules, more organization, and more government money.

Conservatives understand that inequality alone is not a bad thing. (In fact, recent history has shown that equality increases during a recession.) Economic activity is not a zero-sum game and “equality of stuff” is neither just nor possible. The world learned that lesson in the Cold War. The Soviet Union was perhaps the most unequal society in history – the vast majority of the population lived in poverty, while the politically powerful enjoyed the fruits of their connections. We know how the Cold War ended. To paraphrase Reagan, “We won. They lost.”

Conservatives, by contrast, ask how government can better ensure “equality of opportunity.” The best way to ensure equal opportunity is for government to create and enforce a basic framework of rules that empower citizens to reach their potential. And while increased inequality is not necessarily a bad thing if the entire economy is improving, social mobility matters.

The conflicting philosophies of conservatives and liberals is clear in the contrasting approaches to the challenge of education in high poverty neighborhoods. Liberals tend to focus on increased funding and more centralized control. Sometimes their logic seems more focused on buildings and protecting existing power structures than helping real-life children.

House Bill 1579, which I have sponsored, takes a more comprehensive and conservative approach to improving education in high-poverty struggling school districts. It does so by empowering families in these communities to choose the school which will work best for them – as they see it, not as someone else does. The bill would:

  1. Encourage the rapid expansion of high-performing charter schools;
  2. Create scholarships for students in low-income families to attend the same schools as students from wealthy families, on the condition that the school they choose abides by the same requirements as traditional public schools and agrees not to compel any scholarship recipient to attend a religious class or ceremony;
  3. Protect the freedom these families have under current law to choose a different traditional public school, but allows “receiving schools” to place reasonable restrictions on transfers to ensure there is enough classroom space to help; and
  4. Allow students to choose courses in virtual education as an alternative to brick-and-mortar schools.
Beyond protecting and increasing these families’ freedom to choose their own path, HB 1579 would help improve struggling schools by creating a fund to pay bonuses to high-performing teachers and a more equitable transfer funding formula to prevent potential bankruptcies.I anticipate that discussions on big education legislation this year will take a long and winding path. My focus will be on increasing opportunities for families in struggling districts to pursue their own happiness, and not be held back by the arbitrary silo of an unfortunate zip-code, and I’ll do my best to ensure that the principles and policies included in HB 1579 are included in any legislation that makes it to the finish line.

Plan for Fulton State Hospital Passes Constitutional Test

Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) argues that the current proposal to build a new state mental hospital in Fulton is unconstitutional. I disagree. Since 1962, the Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that our state constitution allows construction projects which are subject to annual appropriations and thereby impose no binding legal obligations on the state without a constitutional amendment. This is the process by which the state has built or improved 16 state buildings, including the Truman Building, the Secretary of State’s office, the new JCCC, and DNR’s Lewis & Clark Building. It was constitutional for each of those 16 projects, and it’s constitutional now.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from Gov. Nixon’s Budget

Rep. Jay Barnes’ Capitol Report, Friday, January 24, 2014

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Gov. Nixon’s Unbalanced Budget Proposal

Ever spent an hour filling up a grocery cart only to discover at checkout that you forgot your wallet at home? That’s the situation that came to mind Tuesday while listening to Gov. Nixon’s State of the State address. In total, Gov. Nixon promised $493 million in new education funding. Unfortunately, this budget is just like the grocery cart filled on an empty stomach – with no wallet in sight. While Gov. Nixon touts our state’s AAA credit rating, this year’s budget proposal is $310 million in the red.

Gov. Nixon has picked up many tricks in his 27 year political career. As governor, he knows there’s little downside to proposing an unbalanced budget. It puts the legislature in a box: we can either make the tough choices necessary to pass a balanced budget; or, we can pass his unbalanced budget.

If we make the tough choices, Gov. Nixon will use his bully pulpit to blame Republicans for not meeting his impossible and irresponsible education funding promises. If we pass his unbalanced proposal, we abdicate our constitutional duty and allow Gov. Nixon to use the withholding power to usurp the budget responsibilities assigned to the legislature by the state constitution.

For me, the choice is easy. The legislature must meet our constitutional responsibility to fix Gov. Nixon’s unbalanced budget proposal – even if it requires difficult decisions, and even though it’s a political set-up.

A quick rundown:

The Good - Gov. Nixon proposed a 3 percent pay raise, renewal of the state match for deferred compensation, and steady health insurance premiums for state employees. These are much needed improvements and have my full support. Gov. Nixon’s call for increased education funding also has my support – but those increases must be measured by reality and coupled with real accountability, not the empty soundbites offered by Gov. Nixon in Tuesday’s speech.

The Bad - Gov. Nixon’s budget bets on the passage of Medicaid and tax amnesty legislation which may – or may not – happen. This adds approximately $150 million in revenues to the bottom line, but requires legislative action that is iffy at this point. Gov. Nixon also abandoned the consensus revenue estimate generated by the House, Senate, and non-partisan economists from Mizzou. This gubernatorial accounting convenience added another $160 million in hypothetical revenues to the bottom line and led Sen. Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer to call Gov. Nixon’s budget “absolute political fiction.”

The Ugly - Gov. Nixon proposed $350k to create a state office in Washington, D.C., but we already have eight members of Congress and two Senators ready, willing, and able to represent Missourians there. We don’t need a state office on top.

Supporting State Employees Who Care for Foster Children
Every child deserves a chance and a loving environment. Far too often, however, children in foster care never find a stable home. I’ve sponsored House Bill 1054 to provide support to state employees who volunteer to care for foster children by making shared-leave time available for foster children on the same terms that it’s available for adopted or step-children. The bill was heard Tuesday in a House committee and I’m hopeful that it will be put on fast-track status.
Investing in Lincoln University
On Monday, a group of local leaders joined Sen. Kehoe and Gov. Nixon for the announcement of a proposed $10 million investment to re-model the current, but soon to be “old” St. Mary’s to convert it to use for Lincoln’s nursing program, culinary arts, state offices, and other potential uses. As Sen. Kehoe explained, St. Mary’s is more than just a building. It’s a cornerstone of the community where many of us have our most precious memories. It’s the place where all of my children were born. As St. Mary’s moves into a new facility, it’s important that we find a great use for the historic campus.Monday’s announcement is a good investment for Missouri and great news for our community. For state taxpayers, it’s an investment in quality health care education at an affordable price. For the community, it will help ensure that the historic property is put to important use for generations to come.

How You Can Help Check Arbitrary Executive Power

An Amendment to Check the Executive Power to Promulgate Excessive Regulations  

  • Shall the Constitution of Missouri be amended to guarantee a legislative check on the executive power to promulgate administrative rules which are unlawful, arbitrary and capricious, dangerous to the public, excessive, or inconsistent with the original purpose of the law, with all such legislative decisions subject to the check of judicial review? 

That’s the question likely headed to your ballot this fall.

Both the U.S. and our state constitution are designed to limit governmental power. The Bill of Rights limits government power by guaranteeing zones of freedom for citizens. The constitution itself limits power through an intricate system of both vertical and horizontal checks-and-balances. Power is checked vertically through our system of federalism. And it’s checked horizontally through features like judicial review, confirmation of appointments, veto power, and much more.

Unfortunately, our Founders never envisioned the rise of the modern administrative state where policy-making authority is wielded ever more often by executive agencies rather than legislatures. In Missouri, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules was created decades ago to check the governor’s power regarding administrative rules. Under current law, the committee checks executive power – but only with the agreement of the governor. The problem is plain. How good is a check on government power if it requires the consent of the branch which is supposed to be checked? In reality, if the governor is unwilling to cooperate, JCAR can be more like a speed-bump than a road-block for overreaching or arbitrary and capricious regulations.

In Washington, there is nothing like JCAR to check the president’s power to promulgate administrative rules which Congress believes are inconsistent with the statutes which give them power. That’s why President Obama bragged to Democrats this week that he wouldn’t need Congress for many of the large policy initiatives of his second term. “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he’s reported as saying – indicating that he’s going to govern by administrative rules and executive orders rather than cooperation with Congress.

House Joint Resolution  57, which I have sponsored, would strengthen JCAR’s ability to check executive power by eliminating the requirement that the governor cooperate. By putting JCAR in the Missouri Constitution, with its decisions subject to judicial review, we ensure that Missouri, unlike Washington D.C., doesn’t suffer from a run-away executive branch.

I expect floor debate on this important resolution to take place sometime in the next few weeks and hope to have your support if it makes the ballot this fall.

Helping Students Prepare for Their Future
Education is a contentious issue in the state capitol. While most agree on the goal (a system that gives every kid a chance to succeed in life), there are many different ideas on how to get there. I believe the best way to improve education is to give children and their parents as many options as possible – and to let families decide what works best for them. We should attach education funding to real life children with hopes and dreams and encourage schools to compete for students. Others favor a more centralized model where administrators make most decisions and families have fewer choices. That philosophical difference has been and will continue to be debated.

This week, however, I sponsored education legislation which I believe should garner broad support and bridge the gap between the “Reformer” and “Establishment” camps.House Bill 1357 would help Missouri students (and their parents) prepare for their future by requiring schools to facilitate a personal plan of study to achieve their future goals. For some students, that will mean creating a schedule of classes and extracurricular activities to assist them in gaining admission to college. For others, it will mean vocational training to learn a skill which can lead to a career. The idea is to encourage students to set education and career goals – and then help them design a path to get there. Children with goals and plans are more likely to succeed. Indeed, anyone with a goal AND a plan is more likely to succeed in an endeavor.


Session Preview

Talk is cheap. Action is rare – in life and in government. 

With the 2014 legislative session gearing back up, talk will be abundant about legislative proposals and goals. Most will not become law. While there are only a few ways to pass a bill, there are dozens of ways to kill them. That’s frustrating for anyone trying to pass legislation. But this paralyzing process is part of the great genius of the American system of government. The checks-and-balances guard against legislative haste and short-term passions.

Over the next five months, these are the issues on which you’ll hear a whole lot of talk.

  • Medicaid Reform – Missouri has an opportunity to remake its Medicaid system in a conservative mold. We can use federal dollars to create the most market-based public health care welfare system in the history of our country – using Missouri as a laboratory of democracy to prove to the country how to run Medicaid in a way that achieves better results for participants and taxpayers. Or we can do nothing, continuing with a broken system and foregoing the use of our own tax dollars. I’m in favor of reforms combined with increases in eligibility for some and decreases in eligibility for others.
  • Broad-based Tax Relief – For the past decade, Missouri has tried economic development through the barrel-of-money route. We put a whole bunch of money (in the form of tax incentives) in a barrel, and we promise companies savvy enough to hire lobbyists and consultants who know how to work the Department of Economic Development that if they expand here, Missouri taxpayers will give them the barrel. This is a failed path for economic development. The better approach is broad-based tax relief making Missouri a more affordable place to do business for everyone – not just those who know how to game the government. I’m in favor of broad-based tax relief to replace the barrel-of-money baloney.
  • Tax Credit Reform – We’re also going to hear a lot about tax credit reform. Unfortunately, most of the talk won’t be about the so-called jobs tax credits that have failed to produce as advertised. Instead, they’ll focus on tax credits that actually worked – like historic tax credits which have helped revitalize many buildings in downtown Jefferson City. I believe serious tax credit reform must reform the so-called jobs tax credits. For example, we should cap how many jobs tax credits a company can stack together. On this issue, the devil is really in the details, and it’s impossible to say where I’d line up on any potential legislation at this point.
  • Education – Current Missouri law allows students in failing schools to escape by enrolling in nearby schools. There’s valid concern about the lack of specificity in this law regarding the process for these transfers. There’s probably universal agreement that this is the top issue facing elementary and secondary education in Missouri. And a number of different “fixes” have been offered. As Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, I will only support legislation that keeps options open for students in these failing districts who seek a better education. Efforts to re-close the trap door on these students, such as one by Missouri Association of School Administrators which simply changes definitions in state statutes to nullify existing law, are unacceptable.

That’s the talk – we’ll see about the action.

Happy Holidays 2013

The Holiday Season

A Time for Reflection and Renewal

The holiday season is the best time to take a step back from the hustle-and-bustle and to reflect on all that’s right with the world and what we can do to make the world a better place.

I’m thankful for a wonderful and healthy family full of love and happiness. A wife who is supportive and the best mom I’ve ever seen and kids who are sweet, inquisitive, and growing every day in independence.

I’m thankful to live in what is still the greatest nation in the history of the world.

I’m thankful for Pope Francis and his refreshing energy, love, and focus.

I’m thankful that God sent His only Son to save us and teach us how to live.

It’s funny how three kids, age, and a few sessions spent hammering away at legislation in the capitol will change your perspective. But the older I get, the more reflective I get. A little over a month ago, my colleague and one of the people whose opinion I respect most, Rep. Chris Kelly, announced he was going to retire from the legislature at the end of next session – and did it in a way that only he could pull off – announcing that he’d rather spend time reading his grandkids “Pete the Cat” than toiling away in the state legislature.

Since Rep. Kelly’s announcement, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I would still want to be a state legislator. For many reasons, this job is incredibly frustrating. So why not just follow Rep. Kelly’s lead? It’d be a lot less stress, and I wouldn’t find myself wrapped around the axle on what a two-word phrase or misplaced comma in a proposed bill means or doesn’t mean.

But then I ask myself, where else in life will I ever have the opportunity to do truly great things for so many people? To, in many cases, bring Christian values to state government. Where else could one:

  • Help create a health care system using market forces to improve outcomes, our economy, to save taxpayer money, and serve as an example to the rest of the country on how to do Medicaid in a way that’s consistent with the free market principles that made our nation into the wealthiest in the history of the world.
  • Work to ensure every child in our state has the chance at a good education – regardless of their zip code.
  • Protect Missouri families who work hard and play by the rules from big businesses who want special treatment.
  • Protect the most vulnerable – the unborn.
  • Strengthen our criminal laws against predators who abuse women and children.

The answer is nowhere. It is in the state legislature where I believe I can use my talents to do the most good in the world.

As Jane will tell you, I’m not much of one for ceremony or to make a big deal out of things. Now, heading into my fourth year of legislative service, I’ve started looking around a little bit more and realizing just how awesome of an honor and responsibility it is to serve as a state legislator. And I feel that I have to continue doing my best to make our community and state a better place to live.

Thank you for your continued support. May you and yours have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.