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After tour, ‘downsizing’ government committee studies what it heard

They averaged more than two dozen people per hearing last week, as members of the Missouri House Downsizing State Government Committee held public hearings in nine cities in just three days.

They started in Clayton, then went to Cape Girardeau, Poplar Bluff, Springfield, Joplin, Independence, St. Joseph, Columbia — and wrapped up their tour at the Capitol late Thursday afternoon.

“I’m very pleased,” Chairman Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, told reporters after that last hearing. “What we want people to know is that we’re trying to make ourselves available and accessible to them, for their comments.

“I’ve got three or four pages of hand-written notes, plus what our research analyst is helping type up. I’m just going to meet with some of the committee members, and we’re just going to bounce this around, then put together what we think might be appropriate to tackle during the next legislative session.”

State Rep. Tom Hurst, R-Meta — whose district includes the Henley area of southeastern Cole County, as well as parts of Miller, Osage, Maries and Gasconade counties in Mid-Missouri — said he’s heard some of the ideas before.

“The main purpose was to listen,” he explained. “What it basically has done is brought to the forefront some of the things that are on the top of people’s lists, about what they would like to see us do, as far as downsizing government. ...

“This basically (reiterates) the fact that they’re still interested, and they want to keep it on the forefront..”

At almost every hearing, including Jefferson City’s, the committee heard from advocates for legalizing marijuana and for lawmakers to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would reduce income taxes over a decade.

For instance, Curtman noted, “Our committee has heard some testimony with concern about the size and scope of the state Department of (Elementary and Secondary) Education, and our government’s role in it.”

But one idea stood out from the tour as being new.

“We had a really good suggestion from a guy (in St. Louis) who said, ‘I don’t know if Missouri has one of these measuring devices, to measure the cost-effectiveness of money after it’s been appropriated, but maybe we need a formula to see if the benefit outweighs the cost, or vice-versa — to make sure that people are getting their money’s worth out of government.’”

Curtman said: “I think that’s a very reasonable and appropriate suggestion.”

Although he doesn’t know yet what proposed bills might come from the committee, he expects there will be some.

“The reason that we made ourselves available and accessible to the public was for the purpose of finding some issues from them that we could actually implement, so that our government cooperates better with the people,” Curtman said.

He also said the tour helped people talk about general ideas, rather than having to comment on specific, already introduced bills being heard by legislative committees during the General Assembly’s regular sessions.

Hurst noted several people suggested government reduce or eliminate business regulations.

“It’s not really (so much) a cost factor that we’re looking at,” he said, “as it is looking toward the future, so that those businesses understand that we’re here to work with them, not against them.”

But, he added, that doesn’t mean there will be no regulations in the future.

“We’re not in any way saying we want to take regulation to a point where it’s a free-for-all,” Hurst explained. “Most of the people I talk to agree that we need some kind of regulations.”

At the start of Thursday’s Capitol hearing, Curtman noted the panel “was put together so that we would have some people who could claim ownership over some issues.”

He added: “Maybe there are some people who, through the daily running of their lives or their business see redundancies in the bureaucracies they have to come in contact with on a regular basis — so, maybe, they can bring that to our attention and we can introduce legislation to help rein those in.”

He told reporters that no one testified against the committee’s downsizing goal.

But, Hurst said: “We didn’t really hear anything about increasing the size of government as much as ‘right-sizing’ versus ‘down-sizing.’

“That was an interesting aspect and a good way to look at it — you can cut back so far. It’s like weight loss — to lose the fat is good, but to lose the muscle is not.

“You don’t want to cut so much that you hurt the entity.”

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