It has been a busy week at the capitol, with long hours spent in the chamber. There is only one week left of this legislative session. The Budget had to be finished by today, and thankfully it was Truly Agreed and Finally Passed (TAFP) on Thursday afternoon. Rep. Frederick has asked me, Joyce Bush, his legislative assistant to write this week’s capitol report. He plans to write an end of session report after next week to let you know how the session ends.
Senate Bill 350, Circuit Breaker Property Tax Credit
This week, as the House and Senate finished the Budget, the House passed a bill that will keep the budget balanced in the future. Senate Bill 350, sponsored by Sen. Dempsey (R-23), would bring an end to the renters’ potion of the Circuit Breaker Property Tax Credit. The Circuit Breaker is meant to provide relief to property owners.
In January Governor Nixon, during his State of the State address, proposed a budget plan that included elimination of a portion of the Circuit Breaker Property Tax Credit. The budget proposal was balanced in part on the approximately $57 million in revenue that would be freed up by the elimination of the renters’ credit. While the Governor has since waffled on the issue, the House and Senate have continued to work on this important tax credit reform that was recommended by the governor’s own Tax Credit Review Commission in 2010 and again in 2012.
The change is a matter of fairness as the credit is meant for those who pay property tax. The commission also noted the credit is unfair to the many seniors who live in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and apartments run by non-profits. These seniors are not allowed to claim the credit despite the fact they have a similar income level and a similar cost of living. In addition, many of the renters who benefit from this credit already have greatly reduced rent because they live in facilities that have benefited from other tax credit programs such as the low-income housing tax credit.
Even with the elimination of the renters’ tax credit, the state’s commitment to providing assistance to seniors and the disabled will not be diminished. The $57 million we will save by eliminating the tax credit will now be used to fund health, mental health, and social services that will be an even greater asset to seniors and the disabled. We must be careful stewards of the people’s tax dollars. This funding will be a much more fair and equitable means to provide assistance to those who need it most. – something the credit for renters did not do.
Page 2 of 3 -
Senate Bill 350 was truly passed and finally agreed upon Thursday, May 9, 2013.
Members of the American armed forces stationed abroad bravely risk their lives each day to fight for the rights that we hold so dear, including the right to choose our elected representatives. We can never repay these men and women for their sacrifices, but we must at least ensure that they are never deprived of the very rights they defend.
To better serve Missourians deployed abroad, the House recently passed Senate Bill 116, the Uniformed Military and Overseas Voters Act, which will simplify the voting process for military personnel and other Americans living overseas to help guarantee that their votes are counted and their voices are heard.
Currently, the voting process for those deployed outside the United States is complex and cumbersome. It can take weeks, or even months, for ballots to be mailed back and forth between military bases and the United States, and if deadlines are missed, these votes will not be counted. Moreover, if forces are transferred to a different base while the forms are in the mail, these men and women may never get a chance to cast their ballots.
Senate Bill 116 makes it easier for those stationed outside of the United States to vote by requiring the Secretary of State to establish a system whereby overseas voters can request registration materials and military-overseas ballots online. Those who are not registered to vote in Missouri will be able to use the federal postcard application to register to vote and request a ballot. This process will apply to national, state, and local elections to make the process as efficient as possible. With a smarter and faster registration process in place, it will be easier for all military personnel to have their voices heard by the country they so valiantly serve.
Before Session draws to a close, the Legislature must truly agree to and finally pass the Budget. The Missouri Constitution requires us to pass a balanced, on-time budget. Once again, the House and Senate worked together to deliver a responsible fiscal plan that puts the priorities of Missourians first.
The biggest appropriations are those allocating money to Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education—and with good reason. Education is crucial for economic growth and, more importantly, for individual success. We in the Missouri Legislature are dedicated to providing the highest-quality education to all Missourians at all levels. The budget reflects this commitment.
The 2014 Budget contains the largest level of funding for K-12 education in the history of the state, including a $66 million increase in funding for the Foundation Formula. It also contains $2 million for teaching programs in urban elementary and secondary schools and another $200,000 for the Missouri Charter School Commission. These programs aim to help give children and young people that boost to reach a more productive life.
Page 3 of 3 -
Today’s working world often requires an advanced degree or technical training. That’s why we are working harder than ever to provide funds for higher education. The budget this year includes increases in scholarship opportunities—including a $2.4 million increase for Bright Flight and a $1 million increase for Access Missouri—and in funding for colleges and career programs.
Besides the general $25 million increase for four-year State Universities, we also allocated money to establish or build programs that will train students for highly in-demand careers. Among these items are: $1.3 million for an Occupational Therapy Program at Missouri State University and $150,000 for Three Rivers to establish a trade school in Willow Springs. Another $10 million will go to the medical school at the University of Missouri, to build a cooperative program with Springfield hospitals.
The people of Missouri have made it clear health and public safety are top concerns. One of our goals this session has been improving mental health in order to fight crime. We know that health and safety go hand-in-hand. The 2014 budget reflects this goal. We allocated $750,000 for a prisoner re-entry program in St. Louis to help reduce recidivism rates and violent crimes. We also budgeted $8.9 million for developmentally disabled provider rate restricting in the Department of Mental Health, while also arranging the first provider rate increases in years for nursing homes, mental health services, and home and community-based services.
While we focus on the basic functions of state government, like education, safety, and growth, the arts are not neglected. We take pride in the culture and landmarks of our state, and as economic growth continues, we turn our eyes towards cultural growth. To this end, this year’s budget provides $4.2 million in new funding for the Missouri Arts Council and a $1 million increase in Tourism Funding.
The budget isn’t all increases, though. There are times when programs outlive their use and when government services can be performed more effectively at the local level. This year, we moved the issuance of CCW permits from the Department of Revenue to the county sheriff’s offices. This resulted in less funding for the Department of Revenue, additional funding for counties, and more privacy for Missourians.