This week the legislature began the final sprint to the finish of our annual marathon.
In the last days, bills previously vetted in committee re-emerge as amendments. What may have taken an hour to debate the first time, now takes minutes. Every effort is made to move votes on key proposals. And tensions escalate as time becomes the most precious commodity. With so much going on down the stretch, I decided to break from the routine of a single subject column and instead provide you the highlight reel from the week.
Pay Increases, St. Mary's Funding, and New Fulton State Hospital in Budget
The legislature finalized the state budget for the next fiscal year. It included several items of importance for the Jefferson City area:
Pay Raises for State Employees - The budget includes a one percent pay raise for all state employees. This amount is much lower than I would prefer, but it remains a step in the right direction. Before I took office, state employees had gone five years without a pay raise. In the last four years, however, there have been three pay raises. It's important to remember that steady increases are necessary to move us out of the national cellar for state employee pay.
Stable Health Insurance and Deferred Compensation - Under ObamaCare, health care costs are rising for everyone. Through my work on the budget committee related to state employee benefits, I helped ensure that this year's budget holds health care costs constant so that state employees won't have to pay more out-of-pocket for their benefits. In total, this year's budget includes $24 million in increased payments for state employee health care costs. In addition, the budget includes nearly $10 million to match deferred compensation contributions made by state employees.
St. Mary's Redevelopment - In January, our community came together to support a proposal to re-develop St. Mary's Hospital after their move to a new facility. This year's budget includes $6 million to convert the hospital for use by Lincoln University, state office space, and Linn State. This funding is key to securing vibrant economic activity in the area surrounding the soon-to-be "old" St. Mary's.
New Fulton State Hospital - The budget includes $14 million in funding for the first payment of a long-term plan to build a new state mental hospital in Fulton. This new facility is long overdue. Partly due to bad design, state employees at Fulton State Hospital suffer more injuries than any other group of state employees. The new building will lead to a safer facility for both workers and patients.
Tax Cut Veto Override
On Tuesday morning, the House took a historic vote to override Gov. Nixon's veto of SB 509, a bill to cut taxes for every Missourian - not just big businesses who know how to work the Department of Economic Development. Like the other 108 House members who voted for the bill, I was pleased to cast the deciding vote on the measure.
Protecting Missouri Against President Obama's War on Coal
Schools, hospitals, small businesses, and family homes don't run on hope. They require electric power. In winter, power saves lives by keeping people warm. In summer, it makes life bearable. Every family, school, and business budget includes costs for electricity.
In Missouri, we enjoy some of the lowest electricity rates in the entire country. Missouri families pay 14 percent less and businesses pay 12 percent less for electricity than the national average. In California, a state that already has energy regulations similar to those pushed by President Obama, energy costs 62 percent more than it does in Missouri.
In Missouri, more than 80 percent of our energy comes from coal-fired power plants. Because of that, President Obama's war on coal is an attack on every person who pays a utility bill here. If President Obama gets his way and moves every state to the California model, your utility bill will increase dramatically. Even the EPA admits that new regulations would add 80 percent to the cost of coal-fired electricity. If you currently pay $100 a month, you'd pay $180 - or nearly $1,000 per year.
The Missouri House can't control what happens in Washington. But we can do our best to mitigate the effects of President Obama's pen-and-phone regulatory agenda.
This week the House passed HB 1631 to lessen the impact of President Obama's war on coal for Missouri families and business. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Todd Richardson, requires the Air Conservation Commission to adopt our own Missouri-based standards for carbon emissions if the EPA persists in regulating coal-fired power plants out of existence. HB 1631 ensures Missouri, not unaccountable EPA bureaucrats in Washington, will make key decisions for its economy. The bill passed 134-17. With this wide bi-partisan majority and Gov. Nixon's consistent support for American energy, I fully expect that he will sign the bill.
State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, represents Missouri's 60th District.