This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones contends that Gov. Jay Nixon’s latest objection to the tax-cut measure sitting on his desk is “a red herring” that the governor is using to make his expected veto more palatable.
“I think the governor is looking for a reason to veto the bill,’’ Jones said Friday.
Jones’ observations came as he met with supporters and family at his privately funded district office. He had just completed a four-day tour traveling through the state talking about various measures – notably the proposed tax cut for businesses and individuals – that Jones said had helped make the recently completed legislative session such a success.
The governor – a Democrat who previously has aired other concerns about the tax-cut bill – issued a statement Thursday stating that eliminating the tax break for prescriptions was “troubling’’ and would cost Missourians $200 million a year in higher sales taxes. Nixon said such a hike was unfair, especially for people with illnesses or chronic conditions.
Nixon has until mid-June to sign or veto the bill or let it become law without his signature.
Jones said in an interview that the governor was highlighting an unintended error in the measure that could be fixed by the General Assembly in 2014.
“That little issue that he’s worried about doesn’t take effect until 2015,” the speaker said. Legislators, he added, “can fix that tiny problem.”
Jones -- like several supportive business groups -- contended that the tax breaks in the bill were too important to be sacrificed, particularly since legislators were committed to making sure the tax hike on prescription drugs doesn’t come about. Jones said that Nixon appeared to be using the issue as yet another excuse for vetoing the bill.
Jones promises new tax-cut bill if veto stands
If Nixon does so, Jones said that House Republicans will caucus this summer to determine if they have the necessary 109 votes to override a Nixon veto. If not, the speaker said he was committed to getting another tax cut through the General Assembly next year.
“We will definitely seek broad-based tax relief,” Jones said, if Nixon vetoes HB253, as expected.
Jones, like the bill’s sponsor, also blamed the state Department of Revenue, which is accused of writing the language that eliminated the prescription-drug exemption from sales taxes. The department is under Nixon’s control.
Jones contended that the Department of Revenue “is having a real bad year. There seems to be a real breakdown of competency over there, and this is yet another example of that,” the speaker said. “They had the opportunity to catch this long before now.”
The Associated Press reported Friday that it had emails from the department and crafters of the bill that show that the Department of Revenue did not provide the faulty language, and that it came from the legislative staff. However, both sides signed off on the final version, each camp apparently unaware that the sales tax exemption had been eliminated.
Jones met with protesters backing Medicaid expansion
At the Friday evening gathering in Eureka, Jones once again was met with a small group of protesters outside who were calling for the GOP-controlled General Assembly to reconsider the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, as proposed by the federal Affordable Care Act and backed by Nixon.
Jones met briefly with the picketers, noting that Republican legislative leaders have set up a special committee to examine the state’s Medicaid program and consider changes.
The Affordable Care Act calls for the federal government to pick up all the expansion costs for three years and then at least 90 percent after. But Jones and other GOP leaders say that the final cost would still be too great. They also oppose expanding the government’s role in health care.
Jones said the fact that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney – who called for repealing the Affordable Care Act – handily carried Missouri by 11 points last November was evidence that voters also opposed any health-care expansion.
The House did consider several proposals for revamping Medicaid, but Jones said a key problem was that the state Senate’s GOP majority made clear it wouldn’t entertain the idea of Medicaid expansion.
“I wasn’t going to take a vote on a difficult issue’’ that then was going to be killed in the Senate, Jones added.
'Common Core' repeatedly raised
In any case, he observed that Medicaid expansion didn’t appear to be a hot topic among those attending the 17 or 18 events during his statewide tour, although pro-expansion protesters showed up outside a handful of them, Jones said.
What was more surprising, he continued, was that many attendees did bring up the “Common Core,’’ an education initiative that encourages public school students to learn a common curriculum.
Jones said he heard from a number of parents who were concerned about the initiative and frustrated that school officials didn’t appear to be willing to discuss it in depth with the public.
Parents “don’t understand the purpose of a common core curriculum,’’ Jones said, and also are concerned about “what’s going to be in it.”
During the final hours of the legislative session, the House approved a bill to require public meetings on the topic and a detailed analysis of the costs. But the Senate killed the measure.
Jones predicted that Common Core will get more legislative attention in 2014.
Based on what he heard on the tour, Jones said he also is committed to pressing in 2014 for a “right to work’’ measure to bar requiring all workers to pay union dues if a majority votes to join a union.
The speaker also hopes to revisit the issue of funding Missouri’s transportation needs. The Senate killed a bill, which passed the House, which would have asked voters in 2014 to consider a temporary hike in the state sales tax to pay for transportation improvements, including a widening of Interstate 70.