Category Archives: State Employees

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.

High-Paid Lobbyists for Private Organizations Don’t Deserve Public Pensions

The AP reports that private lobbyists in 20 states, including Missouri, are eligible for public pensions. My thought: this is wrong. Lobbyists for private entities do not deserve public pensions paid for by Missouri taxpayers. While the legislature legally cannot and practically should not do anything about people already vested in the system, we should close the door to taxpayer-funded pensions for high-paid lobbyists of private organizations in the future. 

Statement on Budget Withholds

Gov. Nixon’s withholds are of dubious constitutionality.The Missouri Constitution only allows the Governor to withhold based on real-world, actual tax receipts, not on ifs, ands, or buts. These withholds are based on two ifs. The first if is that there will be an override on HB 253. The second if is that Congress will take action on Internet sales taxes. The first if is unclear at this point and the second if is entirely unlikely. Gov. Nixon should release these duly-passed appropriations.

I’ve pasted the section of the Missouri Constitution below: 

Art IV, Section 27. Power of governor to control rate of and reduce expenditures. The governor may control the rate at which any appropriation is expended during the period of the appropriation by allotment or other means, and may reduce the expenditures of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations whenever the actual revenues are less than the revenue estimates upon which the appropriations were based.

2013 Session Legislative Recap

The last two weeks of session are hectic every year. This year, however, seemed the most hectic yet in my three years of service. As bills pass across the rotunda from chamber to chamber, sometimes it’s difficult to keep track of everything that the Senate is doing to send bills to the governor’s desk. With a weekend of much-needed yard work behind me, I thought I’d recap the accomplishments from this session in which I played a role. 

  1. MSP Re-Development and Capitol Maintenance –The budget included $38 million in the budget for the construction of a new state office building on the grounds of the old Missouri State Penitentiary and $50 million for long overdue maintenance in the state capitol. The $38 million investment at MSP will kick-start further redevelopment by ensuring a critical mass of people who work there. The $50 million for maintenance will ensure that our state capitol remains the treasure it is today. Just as a homeowner must invest in repairs and upkeep, so too must state government ensure that our buildings do not fall into disrepair. 
  2. Raises for State Employees – The budget included a $500 raise for all state employees. We still rank 50 out of 50 and $500 is not enough to get us out of the basement. But, it’s the second year in a row in which state employees have received a raise after six consecutive years without one. Moving in the right direction is a win.
  3. Education Reform for Struggling School Districts Senate Bill 125, which I handled in the House, will put St. Louis schools on equal footing with other districts in the state by allowing it to terminate teachers found incompetent. It will also allow the State Board of Education to intervene immediately in an unaccredited school district rather than waiting two years as it has to under current law. This will help ensure that students in struggling districts get appropriate help from the State Board as soon as possible. While this bill was not as transformative as we initially attempted, it is the most substantive education bill to pass since the re-write of the foundation formula in 2005.
  4. Medicaid Transformation House Bill 986 and Senate Bill 127 combined do four things relating to Medicaid: (1) extend Ticket-to-Work, a program which helps Missourians with disabilities keep health insurance while employed, (2) place foster children on equal setting with children of traditional families for health insurance, (3) streamline Medicaid eligibility and require annual re-determinations through electronic searches to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, and (4) allow the creation of a Joint Interim Committee on Medicaid Transformation for a group of senators and representatives to study how we might transform Missouri Medicaid into the most market-based public health care system in the entire history of the federal program.
  5. Saving First Steps – After the House and Senate passed a balanced budget using Gov. Nixon’s original recommendation to eliminate the circuit breaker tax credit, Gov. Nixon vetoed the circuit breaker legislation. As a result, First Steps and federally qualified health centers could not receive funding unless the legislature passed a bill to create the Senior Services Protection Fund. In order to save First Steps and FQHCs, House Bill 986 created the Senior Services Protection Fund and was sent to the Gov. Nixon’s desk Friday afternoon.
  6. Strengthening Missouri’s Law on Rape – Missouri’s law on rape has a loophole which prevents a charge of rape against a perpetrator who commits the crime against a victim who has become incapacitated as a result of anything other than the perpetrator’s conduct. The defendants in the infamous Steubenville case from Ohio unsuccessfully used a similar loophole in Ohio law as their defense. I sponsored legislation this year to close this loophole, attached it as an amendment to at least three separate bills, and I’m pleased to report it’s on the governor’s desk as an amendment on House Bill 301, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Engler.  
  7. Tax Credit Reform – The ‘Buck Stops Here Tax Credit Reform Act of 2013,’ aka “Missouri Works,” will consolidate several economic development programs into one which provides DED with much more flexibility to say no. The goal: more Monsantos and less Mamteks. We want DED to be able to weed out bad projects. This legislation was passed via amendment to House Bill 184, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Cox.
  8. Veteran’s Courts – Veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder deserve our help. Senate Bill 118, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus takes veteran’s courts statewide, will help ensure that veterans with PTSD in legal trouble get the help they need to turn their lives around.  We know that veterans are capable of being productive members of society. Getting them the right kind of medical treatment will put them back on the path to success. SB 118 is very similar to my legislation and to legislation sponsored by Rep. Sheila Solon, who deserves credit for her work on this issue as well.

Floor Speech on State Employee Pay

The House is working on the state budget this afternoon, including state employee benefits. The great news is that health insurance costs will not be going up as much as health care inflation in other areas of the economy. The decent new is that there’s only a pay raise of $500 per employee.

This is not enough, but I’m not one to make the perfect the enemy of the good. It’s still a step in the right direction after state employees went five years between raises until we secured one in last year’s budget.

The following are the prepared remarks I made on the floor:

Mr. Speaker, as you and other members of this body are aware Missouri state employees rank 50th out of 50 in state employee pay. This budget includes a pay raise of $500 per employee. This is a step in the right direction, but, in my opinion, it’s not enough.

Over the last five years, the governor has cut thousands of state employee jobs. Some of these were justified, others not. But regardless of the propriety of any of these cuts, one thing is undeniably true: state employees are being asked to do more, but not being compensated accordingly for it.

Mr. Speaker, Missouri is not New York. It’s not California and thank God it’s not Illinois. We don’t need and in fact should not be one of the nation’s top-paying states because our cost-of-living just isn’t that high. But we shouldn’t be ranked below Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas and every other state in the country. We should be closer to where we are in national cost-of-living standards.

This budget keeps us moving forward. One-quarter glass of water is much better than on water at all. On behalf of 5,000+ state employees who I represent, I thank the Budget Committee for this quarter glass. But it’s my great hope that we can build on this in this budget and in future years to get state employee pay out of the national cellar. 

State Employee Health Care Costs Stay Constant

Good news for state employees. The House Committee on Appropriations for General Administration reviewed the budget yesterday for state employee fringe benefits – and it projects no increases for state employee health care premiums or co-pays. 

There’s also money in the budget for another cost-of-living increase / raise. It’s not enough necessarily to get us out of the basement, but it’s a another step in the right direction which I support.  

State Employee Pay Raises Make the Budget

Gov. Nixon has proposed a “two-percent” raise for state employees which starts mid-way through the year. I’m encouraged that the proposed budget includes this pay raise. Of course I’d like such a raise to start at the beginning of the fiscal year. I’d also like it to be larger than the two percent for half-a-year which was identical to his proposal last year. State employees are dead last in pay and need a few years with more than a mere cost-of-living increase. However, any step in the right direction is a step I support.   

Protecting the First Amendment Rights of State Employees

I filed HB 200 this morning to protect the First Amendment rights of state employees by explicitly allowing state employees to voluntarily participate in political activities, and, just as important, run for partisan political office. 

In particular, the bill amends §36.150 to state that (1) the prohibition against solicitation of financial assistance from state employees as a condition of employment shall not be interpreted to prevent a state employee from”voluntarily engaging in any political activity during non-working hours” and (2) to delete the section which requires a state employee to resign or obtain a leave of absence in order to be a candidate for nomination to partisan political office. 

I’m filing this because state employees shouldn’t be forced to abandon their rights to political activity, including running for office, in non-work hours just because they’re a state employee. 

Committee Assignments

Committee assignments were handed out today. I’m pleased to announce I’ve been named to the following committees:

1. Government Accountability – I have been named chairman of the committee on Government Accountability. This committee was originally created to investigate Mamtek. We have also looked into state contracting and failures by some departments to carry out responsibilities. This committee will continue looking for ways to find and eliminate inefficient, irresponsible, or unaccountable government spending and programs. The committee’s major emphasis this year will be investigating the efficacy of certain tax credits.

2. Education – I have been named the vice-chair of the committee on Elementary and Secondary Education. In this role I will work to ensure every child in our state has the opportunity for a great education – regardless of where they’re born or how much money their parents have. 

3. Appropriations – General Administration - The appropriations committee for general administration oversees the budgets of statewide elected officials and state employee benefits. Just as I have the previous two years, I will use my position on this committee to protect state employee benefits to the best of my ability and to make sure elected officials are living by the same budget constraints as other state employees.

4. Urban Issues – As the “gentleman from urban Cole” now, I’ve been appointed to the committee on urban issues. This committee is new to me. I’m looking forward to learning more about the bills before it in the weeks and months to come.