At Session’s Midpoint, Reforms Loom Large On Legislative Agenda
If you visit Jefferson City this week, you might notice that the Capitol's a bit quieter than usual. That calm will soon give way to the storm, of course; the chambers are on a regularly scheduled mid-session break and will return to work next Monday to finish out the session. But while the legislature is out, the break provides supporters of good government to take stock of where the policy debates have gone so far in 2016. Here are a few items I'm following:
- Paycheck Protection: This First Amendment-supporting reform passed the Missouri legislature by veto-proof majorities earlier this year. Unionized government employees should not have to underwrite political speech that they don't support. Paycheck Protection flips the equation around, allowing employees to instead opt-in to a union's politics, or keep their hard-earned money. Unfortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill last week; fortunately, we can expect the House and Senate to return to the legislation in the next few weeks to try to override that veto. The reform is one of a raft of government union accountability measures that are long overdue in Missouri.
- Ethics reform: Ethics legislation has already cleared both chambers that would limit elected officials' ability to act as paid political consultants, but a number of other good bills remain on the table that have a solid shot of passage. Among the most important bills that I hope will build some momentum as the session continues is a bill that would enforce a "cooling off period" between the time a legislator leaves office and the time he or she becomes a lobbyist. Effectively a non-compete agreement, this cooling off period would help to ensure that taxpayers have the undivided loyalties of their elected officials while those officials are in office.
- Tax reform: While Kansas City and St. Louis decide whether to end their earnings taxes themselves in a few weeks, the legislature has continued to debate whether to cut taxes statewide, as well. One proposal would extend the income tax cut passed in 2014, reducing the top rate to 5% over a period of years. That would be a modest cut, but it would be an important one that would signal the state was open for business. The legislative chambers may also debate whether to phase out the state's earnings taxes directly, but it is unclear whether the House and Senate will make those reforms a priority this year.
- Tax incentive reform: We've talked for years about the problems that are created when governments cut special tax breaks for cronies, and a number of bills in the legislature would make progress on the tax incentive fronts at both the state and local levels. One bill in particular would reform tax increment financing decisions in the St. Louis area by, among other things, changing what development projects can receive if a county TIF commission rejects a TIF proposal.
- Obamacare's Medicaid expansion: While it was a live issue as late as last year, it appears Obamacare's Medicaid expansion is going nowhere in Missouri in 2016. That's appropriate; Medicaid is a broken program, and rather than double-down on this broken status quo, state and national leaders should focus instead on reforming it.