Missouri House panel holds final ‘downsizing government’ hearing

Cutting taxes, making sure state employees are doing their jobs and legalizing marijuana were three of the ideas pitched Thursday afternoon to a Missouri House committee looking at ways to make government more efficient.

Scheduled for an hour, the Downsizing State Government Committee’s final hearing of a three-day, nine-city tour was over in 35 minutes on Thursday.

Former House General Counsel Alex Curchin, now the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s general counsel and governmental affairs director, urged his former colleagues to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the “tax cut” bill.

“(House Bill) 253 represents an opportunity to slow government spending by reducing the total revenues the state receives,” Curchin reminded the committee members. “House Bill 253 will place money back into the pockets of Missourians — and that translates to Missourians making the election of where their hard-earned dollars are spent.”

In his six-page veto message last month, Nixon said he rejected the bill as “an ill-conceived, fiscally irresponsible experiment that would inject far-reaching uncertainty into our economy.”

Curchin disagreed.

So did Ray McCarty, Associated Industries of Missouri president, who also proposed that lawmakers take another look at what some call TABOR, or a taxpayers’ bill of rights, which is “limiting the amount (of money) you appropriate.”

He said the idea would require the state to save some of its money each year into the “Rainy Day” fund so that, in bad economic years, “the state isn’t scrambling, trying to find programs to cut.”

Earl Williamson, executive director of FairTax-Missouri, urged the lawmakers to pass a state version of the national plan to replace income taxes with a larger sales tax.

“You would reduce the size of government in a number of ways,” he said, suggesting that many of the Revenue department employees displaced by the change could be “turned over to the state auditor, actually put them to work searching out waste, fraud and abuse in Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, state contracts, MoDOT — think of the entire alphabet soup that we have in state government.”

Peggy Barry, Holts Summit, said she had been placed in a state government position by a private jobs agency on a couple of different occasions and, while she was working, “the employees of the state were playing games on the computers (during) business hours.”

She said her husband, a contractor’s employee, saw similar instances and “all-morning parties” when he visited state offices.

“If we’re going to save money and cut back government, I think we need to start looking at what our employees are doing with the time they’re being paid for,” Barry said.

Nancy Steward, Linn Creek, who co-owns an upholstery shop, told about a previous job she had where she and others would spend time installing safety improvements in order to pass the state-required safety inspection for insurance coverage.

“I would spend a couple of hours putting the (safety equipment) on,” Steward reported,” and then I wouldn’t sew anything, because it was more dangerous to have it on than have it off. ...

“Then the inspector would leave, and I’d take it back off.”

Steward said her main point was “that there are so many things ... where we’re spending money we don’t need to spend.”

Jefferson City lawyer Dan Dodson told the committee it should support legalizing marijuana.

“The economics of legalization of hemp and marijuana are very obvious,” Dodson said, noting that papers he distributed to the panel show that making hemp and marijuana legal would add “something in the neighborhood of $150 million” to the state’s economy each year.

He said he’s seen many reports “where some guy drank a 12-pack and smacked his wife or girlfriend around, (but) the number of times I’ve seen where someone smoked marijuana and did that is never, never, never-ever.”

Dodson also urged the committee to consider how many more people could be earning wages and paying taxes, instead of being sent to prison, if marijuana use were legalized.

Committee Chairman Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said the panel would consider all the ideas it’s heard this week and, possibly, propose new laws based on Missourians’ comments.

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