Economic Development News
What do our local legislators say about the issues?
Q&A with Senator Mike Kehoe and Representatives Jay Barnes and Mike Bernskoetter
Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014
The following questions regarding four legislative and budget issues were asked of our local legislators. We thank Senator Mike Keheo and Representatives Jay Barnes and Mike Bernskoetter, for their thoughtful responses.
PAY INCREASE FOR STATE EMPLOYEES
The largest employer in Cole County is the State of Missouri. There are nearly 15,000 jobs located in Cole County that create an annual payroll of approximately $570,000,000. The Governor has proposed an increase in pay of 3% across the board that would create an additional $17m of payroll in the local economy. This is the equivilent of 450 jobs at an average wage of $40,000. Do you support the governor’s proposal to provide this increase in pay for state employees?
Senator Kehoe:Absolutely. State employees make up a significant portion of the local economy in the 6th Senate District. From my experience in local retail business, I know that state employee raises are just as good for the local economy as they are for the families that receive them. State employees do good work that benefits all Missourians, and they deserve to be compensated in a manner that is reflective of the quality and significance of the work that they do.
Representative Barnes: Yes, I support a three-percent pay increase for state employees. Unfortunately, however, Gov. Nixon created unrealistic expectations across the entire budget when he adopted a Consensus Revenue Estimate that was based on the rosiest of economic outlooks. I’m confident that a pay raise will remain in the budget, but do not believe it will be three percent. This is unfortunate, but I’m pleased that we continue moving in the right direction. After five years with no pay increases, it appears we will have three consecutive years with pay increases.
Representative Bernskoetter: Yes, regardless of the fact that it is important to our local economy it is the right thing to do. As a small business owner I know that if I don’t pay my employees enough they will leave for better paying jobs and the knowledge and experience they have gained will go with them. This becomes even more imperative when you are talking about employees that can help citizens dealing with the labyrinth of state laws and regulations.
FUNDING FOR TRANSPORTATION
It is well known that the Missouri Department of Transportation funds available for projects are dwindling and that the number of projects approved for the future has been drastically reduced due to the budget.
Over the past five years, Missouri’s construction budget for roads and bridges has fallen from about $1.3 billion annually to $685 million this year. It is projected to dip to $325 million by the 2017 budget, considerably less than the $485 million annually needed to maintain the highway system in its current condition.
An additional investment of nearly $1B annually is needed to improve Missouri highway and bridge infrastructure to prepare our State economy for growth. Do you support SJR 48 which would place on the November 2014 ballot a 1% increase in the state sales tax for 10 years to provide for this need?
Senator Kehoe: I do support it. In fact, I am the sponsor of SJR48 in the senate. As I travel throughout the 6th Senate District, and across the state, there is overwhelming consensus that Missouri’s transportation infrastructure needs continued investment. Similarly, the facts of the balance sheet demonstrate that there is less money available now to address the real transportation needs of maintaining 32,000 miles of road and 10,400 bridges. In fact, current funding only allows MoDOT to maintain the current system….not enough to add shoulders to rural highways, replace antiquated bridges, or redo roadbeds that were designed in the 1950s. I believe that transportation infrastructure is important first for the safety of Missourians, but also for the state’s economy. I filed SJR48 because I believe that Missourians deserve the opportunity to vote on how they want their tax dollars to be invested in transportation.
The gas tax is a broken model due to increased vehicle fuel efficiency and the cost of fuel. In order to generate an equivalent amount of revenue via an increased gas tax would require an additional $.25/gallon. In recent discussions on this issue, it was argued that a temporary one cent sales tax disproportionately affects low income families. However, SJR48 specifically exempts the very items that low income families spend the majority of their income on: gasoline, food, prescription drugs, utilities, healthcare, and housing. Data that I have reviewed from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that low income families spend about eighty-six percent of their income on these exempt items. Using these numbers, a temporary one-cent sales tax would cost them about $.08 per day. Conversely, national transportation groups have done studies that suggest the average American uses 1.5 gallons of gas per day. This would mean that Missourians would pay an additional $.37/day via a fuel tax increase. Even if low income Missourians only used half of the average amount of gas per day, they would still pay $.18/day via an increased gas tax….more than double what they would pay with a sales tax increase.
Representative Barnes: Providing safe roads is a basic function of government and vital to our economy. The gas tax is one of the most equitable types of taxes because the funds it generates are directly related to the product purchased. Those who drive more and cause more wear-and-tear to our roads pay more in gas taxes. Unfortunately, the drive towards more fuel-efficient cars and trucks (whether by mandates or consumer choice) is also driving a transportation funding crisis as explained in this question. I believe the best solution would be to supplement the gas tax with user-generated tolls. I support this option because, like the gas tax, it requires those who use the public good (a road) to pay costs directly associated with their use of the good. I will also vote in favor of SJR 48 because I believe the transportation funding crisis is serious enough that it deserves a public vote.
Representative Bernskoetter: I don’t like the idea of raising taxes but I like the idea less of our infrastructure crumbling underneath our tires. Roads are a major conduit through which business gets done and we have to simply face the fact that we either have to fix them or let them fall into disrepair. If we are going to raise taxes I believe strongly that the public should have the opportunity to vote on it.
ST. MARY’S/LU PROJECT
The Governor has proposed a $10M appropriation in the FY 2015 budget for the State of Missouri to assume ownership of the current St. Mary’s Health Center campus when it is vacatedat the end of 2014. This project would include provisions for general renovation and for the “build out” of two Lincoln University programs. Funds would be used for a relocation and expansion of the Nursing Program and for a new culinary arts program. Do you support this proposal and how do you think this partnership would benefit us locally and state-wide?
Senator Kehoe: I am very supportive of this project. The St. Mary’s site presents great opportunities for the state as well as for Lincoln University. Additionally, potential partnerships with the State Technical College of Missouri (Linn State) and others make this project even more attractive. Both Lincoln and the State Technical College of Missouri educate students from across the state and beyond, making this a project that is significant and important state-wide.
In central Missouri we know first-hand the great work that Lincoln and the State Technical College of Missouri do. We also know that both institutions educate students and leaders from across the state that return to their communities. Accordingly, I look forward to statewide community leaders helping to educate their senators and representatives while promoting the statewide significance of this project. With two and a half months left in the session, I am hopeful that we can make this project a reality and that both the house and the senate will agree upon a final FY’15 budget that includes necessary funding for this project.
Representative Barnes: Yes, I support the St. Mary’s project. It will benefit the state by providing a building to consolidate some far-flung state offices, and, at the same time, free up space in the Capitol complex. It will benefit Lincoln and Linn State by providing space to expand health care related education programs – which will also have statewide benefits by helping to fill demand in health care professions.
Representative Bernskoetter: I do support this project and I think that it helps a problem that faces not only our state but our nation and that is a shortage of nurses. Outside of addressing a major national issue this project has gathered a lot of interest from others with the recent news that the Cole County Health Department would want to also move there. I am going to work hard this session to see that this gets done.
FULTON STATE HOSPITAL PROJECT
The Governor recently announced he will release funds for the planning and design of the Fulton State Hospital and has asked for a supplemental appropriation in the FY 14 budget and additional funds in the FY15 budget to begin immediately to build a new state mental hospital. Do you support the funding of the new state hospital? Why or why not?
Senator Kehoe: One of the most unnerving things I have ever done was to tour the Fulton State Hospital in its current form. Quite simply, it is an antiquated and dangerous building that is long past its useful life. It is dangerous for staff and for residents and it creates huge indirect costs for the state. I believe that bonding to rebuild the hospital is the best option due to the low cost of money, but I am open to any option that gets a new facility built as quickly as possible.
Representative Barnes: Yes. Fulton State Hospital is old, decrepit, and dangerous for both the patients and staff who work there. It’s been in need of replacement for many years, and I’m confident that the General Assembly will appropriate the funds necessary to build a replacement.
Representative Bernskoetter: I do support this funding. Mental health disorders are a serious problem and I think that building a new hospital is appropriate given that parts of this building date back to pre-civil war era.