By CHRIS BLANK
DAVID A. LIEB
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri lawmakers opened their annual session Wednesday with a renewed vow to enact income tax cuts and a stronger -- though still shaky -- drive to pare back union powers by ending their mandatory fees.
The legislative session that runs through May 16 also will include an emphasis on education, including whether -- and how -- to revise a law that has placed additional financial strain on unaccredited school districts by requiring them to pay the costs of students who choose to transfer elsewhere.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 108-52 in the House and 24-9 in the Senate with a total of four vacancies in the chambers. That means the GOP should be able to push through its agenda. But Republicans will still need to work with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, because they are one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to override vetoes in the House.
Shortly before gaveling in the 2014 session, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and House Speaker Tim Jones led a rally of about 100 activists in support of a proposed "right to work" law that would prohibit union fees from being a condition of employment. Kinder called it a "moral cause" made more pressing by the recent adoption of a similar law in union-heavy Michigan.
Jones linked labor and tax policies together as two essential prongs to improving Missouri's business environment.
"Companies large and small are relocating to states with lower tax burdens, less regulations and where worker freedom and choice reigns," Jones, R-Eureka, said in an opening day speech to colleagues.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey doesn't share the same enthusiasm for a right-to-work bill and made no commitment to force it to a vote in a chamber where Democrats and a few Republicans have in the past threatened to filibuster it. Nixon has pledged to veto the legislation, but lawmakers could bypass him by referring the measure to the November ballot.
Last year, Republicans were unable to override Nixon's veto of an income tax cut bill that would have shaved off hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenues annually. They plan to try again this year, but may pursue a pared back version that costs less and is more narrowly tailored for businesses.
"There will have to be some compromise," acknowledged Dempsey, R-St. Charles.
Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said her members also are willing to work on tax-cut legislation.
"Democrats aren't opposed to tax cuts," she said. "We like the idea of tax reform. It's just a matter of who is getting those cuts."
Dempsey's top priority is a revision of a 1993 state law upheld by the state Supreme Court last year that requires unaccredited districts to pay for students who transfer to nearby accredited districts. More than 2,000 students already have transferred out of the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Garden districts in suburban St. Louis. The transfer law also could kick in for the unaccredited Kansas City district.
"Logistically, it's a nightmare that is only going to get worse and could have the potential to bankrupt several school districts if we don't act on it by May," Dempsey said.
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