Missouri lawmakers return to Jefferson City this week for the start of the 2013 regular session. So far it appears that this year’s dominating issue will be the expansion of Medicaid, which Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has called for and which Republican leaders in both chambers say won’t happen. St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin takes a closer look at that looming battle and other issues facing Missouri lawmakers this year.
Shortly after his re-election in November, Governor Nixon told reporters it was time to expand Medicaid to an additional 300,000 Missourians, and that doing so would also create more than 24,000 new jobs in the state. Despite resistance from GOP leaders, Nixon says there’s plenty of time to reach some sort of agreement that both sides can live with:
“Missourians pay a lot of taxes to Washington DC and we ought to work to get back our fair share of them," Nixon said. "Sending $1.8 billion a year of Missourians’ tax dollars to provide health care in California and New York is not my view of the best expenditure of our tax dollars.”
Nixon didn’t say what he would do if lawmakers fail to expand Medicaid in next year’s state budget. House Speaker Tim Jones (R, Eureka) toured the state last month touting the House GOP’s legislative priorities, during which he called the governor’s proposed Medicaid expansion “reckless.”
“The current Medicaid system we have, before even speaking about expansion, is something that puts a heavy burden on our budget every year, to the tune of adding automatically $150 - $200 million because it’s a welfare entitlement,” Jones said.
The new President Pro-tem of the Missouri Senate also opposes expanding Medicaid. Tom Dempsey (R, St. Charles) wants the federal government to allow Missouri and other states to develop their own health care solutions.
“We would be able to learn from one another," Dempsey said. "We could have a socialized model, we could have a free market model, we could have 48 different ideas in between, instead of having this overarching, monolithic federal policy.”
Another issue Governor Nixon and lawmakers say they’ll devote time and energy to is tax credit reform. The Governor’s commission on tax credits recently revised its recommendations, calling for smaller caps on historic preservation and low income housing incentives, and dropping a recommendation to place expiration dates on nearly half of the state’s tax breaks. Several fiscally conservative senators who tried in recent years to either kill all incentives or bring them under legislative oversight have now left office. Dempsey says there’s wide acceptance in both chambers that tax credit reform needs to happen.
“From talking to members, I believe we’ve moved off the necessity to sunset those programs," Dempsey said. "We can review programs every year; we do not need a sunset in order to take a look at a program.”
That view sounds very similar to a proposal during the 2011 special session that would have set up a review process for all of Missouri’s tax credits. It was sponsored by the House’s former Budget Chair, Ryan Silvey (R, Kansas City), who’s now an incoming freshman Senator.
Armed teachers and possible stalemate
Lawmakers will also likely spend lots of floor time pushing back against attempts to implement the president’s Affordable Care Act in Missouri, and on various social issues, including the controversial proposal to allow armed teachers in classrooms. Dave Robertson is a political science professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. He says there’s a good chance for a stalemate between the governor and lawmakers over both the armed teachers bill and Medicaid expansion.
“What’s really interesting to me is that the governor, who did not take many strong positions that opposed the legislature in his first term, already has laid out positions that draw a line in the sand between himself and the (Republican) majority in the legislature,” Robertson said.
One possible reason for that line-in-the-sand approach is that Nixon doesn’t have to worry anymore about being re-elected.
“He may be thinking about future office," Robertson said. "(That could include) a run for (U.S.) Senate, or perhaps even a run for the presidency, or putting his name in the hopper as a serious candidate for a vice presidential nomination.”
If that’s the case, Robertson says we could see Governor Nixon looking and sounding more like a Democrat this year and less like the fiscally conservative independent his campaign ads portrayed him to be. The 2013 regular session begins Wednesday at 12 p.m.
Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport