Chamber News

So what happens at the Capitol anyway?
Chairman's Message - May 2014
Published: Sunday, May 18, 2014 4:00 pm
By: Bob Gilbert, Bartlett and West - 2014 Chamber Chair

As you are reading this article, the 2014 legislative session is now history.  There is a flurry of activity to end the session and finally pass the state budget (a requirement) and many other bills. You probably just read the current headlines about this activity, but I am writing this article almost two weeks in advance of its publication. I’m wondering how some legislation is going to affect our community, the region, and the whole state. I’m hopeful about several things that are making their way through the process, and am very proud of some elected officials, community leaders, volunteers and Chamber staff who have been working diligently on the things that will matter most to us.

First of all, the new Public Affairs Committee (just formed late last year after a review of the Chamber’s structure and organization), chaired by John Landwehr and Gary Wilbers, started meeting and reviewing the important issues in this session before the session even began! This committee has been gathering frequently to review the latest activity and strategizing how we can best position our community on several matters. They recommended a task force be created to help influence the future of the current St. Mary’s Hospital to house the Lincoln University Nursing and future Culinary Arts programs, along with Linn State programs. I’m happy to report that as of the writing of this article, funding for this very important project is in the Senate’s budget, as well as in the House’s bonding bill, making our hopes high that the state will choose to invest in this project. The task force, comprised of many local elected officials, St. Mary’s/Lincoln/Linn State representatives, and Chamber staff and volunteer leaders, have met with dozens of representatives in the House and Senate to help achieve this. Our local state elected officials, Jay Barnes, Mike Bernskoetter, and Mike Kehoe, have also been working hard on our behalf. I was able to accompany our task force one day as they met with legislators…and learn what it is like in the Capitol during session. Wow! The place is buzzing with activity and many are there promoting their interests and clamoring for moments with our legislators. A special thanks to Tom Rackers and  Dick Wiles who lobby for the City of Jefferson , and Becky Dunn who lobbies for Linn State Technical College. They helped us navigate the many appointments we had, and made  our visits fruitful!

What happens at the Capitol often has a more direct impact on our area than others in the state because of our large number of state facilities and workers. This year that is especially true, and is a reason I’m glad our Public Affairs Committee and other Chamber staff and leaders have been working on our behalf. We will see how the session finishes, as we have other issues to be watching that affect our regional economy, such as state worker’s wage increases, the construction of a new Fulton State Hospital, Medicaid reform bills, and the temporary 10-year sales tax for transportation. The state wage increase of 1% has been approved at this point, and while it is not as high as originally proposed, it does represent over $5 million of additional annual wages for our regional economy. That is the equivalent of about 150 new jobs and is a boost to our community. Our hope is that the task force created by the legislature will continue to look at state pay and benefits and reach a sustainable yet attractive compensation package for state workers.

What happens at the Capitol is important to us and the Chamber will continue to advocate for our community and help our region have a strong economy!

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