The Missing Element in the 2016 Legislative Session
In the 2016 session of the Missouri Legislature, our lawmakers expended millions of words on dozens of issues – everything from guns to fantasy sports, from medical marijuana to opioid abuse, from limits on lobbyists’ gifts to lawmakers . . . to a “cooling off “ period for lawmakers before they become lobbyists, and much else besides.
It was indeed a busy session. When it ended on May 13, people on both sides of the aisle congratulated themselves on the good work they had done.
But there was a disconsolate creature that wandered back and forth between the Senate and House chambers that nobody seemed to notice.
This was the elephant that everyone chose to ignore: the Show-Me State’s far-below-normal economic growth going back more than a decade.
From 2001 to 2014, Missouri’s annual output of goods and services grew at an annual inflation-adjusted rate of just 0.85%, compared to the national median for all state of 1.57%. In average real GDP growth, Missouri ranked 45th among the 50 states.
With average economic growth over that time, state GDP would be 10.4% higher than it is today, and median household income would be up 9.8%, or $4,739—at $53,102.
Before adjourning on Friday, May 13, our lawmakers sent a total of 139 bills to the governor, compared to 130 in 2015 and 190 in 2014.
Without arguing the merits of any of these bills, I would point out that none of them was directly related to anything that would spur economic growth . . . and few were even tangentially related to that issue.
That sets this session of the legislature apart from the previous two sessions.
Two years ago, the Missouri Legislature took at least one step in the right direction when it overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and passed the first reduction in Missouri income tax rates in 93 years (albeit a small reduction that will not begin to take effect until 2017).
A year ago, the legislature passed a bill that would have made Missouri the 26th “right to work” state, meaning that workers would no longer be required to join a union or pay union dues to qualify for many private and public sector jobs. Nixon vetoed the bill, and its supporters were unable to override the veto.
This year, the would-be champions of greater freedom in the workplace passed a watered-down “paycheck protection” bill to allow workers to opt out of the campaign contributions and expenditures of most government labor unions (excluding fire and police unions). Again, Nixon vetoed the bill. On the last day of the session, the effort to override the veto failed by a single vote.
In any event, the “protection” offered to workers under the so-called paycheck protection bill was highly dubious. As it was written, the bill did not require government unions to make financial information publicly available, and it would have painted a bullseye on the back of any union member who dared to request union financials as a basis for opting out of some portion of dues.
I am hoping that in the next session of the Missouri Legislature, we will see much more of a pro-growth agenda—with a concentration on cutting taxes, reducing regulation and red tape, and doing more to secure greater freedom in the workplace.