The 100th Missouri General Assembly got underway on Wednesday with a new governor, lieutenant governor and new representation for the Jefferson City area in the House and Senate. It’s also a new chance for the Show-Me State to tackle some tough problems, both old and new.
As always, many solutions involve money, and our state revenue will never be enough to address all of our challenges. But we’re optimistic that we have quality state leaders that will do their best to represent their constituents.
Here are just a few issues that we hope are addressed in 2019:
• Criminal justice reform — Our Missouri Department of Corrections is facing problems that border on crises. Part of the problem is because it can’t hire and retain enough corrections officers, previously called guards, and the short-staffed prisons have become dangerous. Part of the problem is that our prisons are bursting at the seams, and, unless something is done, our state might be forced to build two new prisons. We believe a solution is for the Legislature to find alternative ways to deal with some of the many criminals who have substance abuse and mental health problems.
• Highway funding — Voters have shot down tax-hike proposals in 2014 and in 2018 that would have funded needed improvements for state-maintained roads and bridges. The problem isn’t going away. As our highway system ages, the need for improvements becomes greater each year. Meanwhile, our state’s fuel tax is 17 cents a gallon, one of the lowest in the country. We believe a fuel tax (the type recently shot down by voters last November) is the most logical way to raise funds. The legislature should come up with a better plan and better ballot language and appeal to voters again.
• Online sales tax — Gov. Mike Parson is proposing to require online companies that do business in Missouri to collect sales taxes, just as brick-and-mortar businesses must do. He says it’s a matter of fairness, and we agree. If we’re going to have a sales tax, it should be applied equally.
• Statewide prescription drug monitoring program — We’ve pushed for this previously, and will continue to do so. Opioids are an epidemic, and Missouri is not immune. Cities and counties have attempted to do this on their own, but we need a good statewide system to prevent doctor shopping. We’re the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t have one.
• Legalize sports betting — A handful of bills have been filed to legalize and regulate sports betting. Call us old-fashioned, but we’re not excited about expanding gambling in Missouri in any form. The lure of a little extra state revenue doesn’t offset the problems that gambling creates.