On The Trail
10:20 pm
Sun May 18, 2014

We Asked Five Questions About Missouri's Legislative Session; Here Are The Answers

Few could accuse the Missouri General Assembly of languishing during its last few days of session.

In fact, the legislature’s last dash was something of a whirlwind: It featured fierce debates over bills about student transfers and abortion restrictions. Lawmakers also sent proposals on a transportation tax and early voting procedures to the November ballot. Other efforts fizzled out, including last-minute pushes to expand and reconfigure the state’s Medicaid system.

It’s a lot to take in. But we're ready to take a step back and answer the questions we posed last month about the last few weeks of the General Assembly’s session:

Will Republicans find consensus — and unity — on tax cuts?

The answer is a resounding yes: Every single Republican elected to the House and Senate voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of tax cut legislation. It was a stark change from last fall, when 15 Republicans torpedoed a tax cut during veto session.

But the way the Republicans prevailed was surprising: The Missouri House has 108 Republicans, and 109 votes are needed to override a veto. The safest course of action would have been to pass a tax cut during the last week or two of session and then seek an override during veto session when special elections will likely boost Republican House numbers to 110.

That didn’t happen. Republicans managed to get one House Democrat – state Rep. Keith English, D-Florissant -- to cross over for the tax cut override. With that, Republicans managed to outflank the governor well before he could go on a statewide tour to whip up any opposition.

Can the House and Senate break the logjam on tax credits?

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, conceded last week that he “didn’t have a lot of hope at the beginning of the year that we were going to accomplish economic development and tax credit reform.” 

Sens. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, helped torpedo an effort to restructure the state's tax credit. They argue that Rep. Anne Zerr's bill didn't do nearly enough to curtail the incentives.
Sens. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, helped torpedo an effort to restructure the state's tax credit. They argue that Rep. Anne Zerr's bill didn't do nearly enough to curtail the incentives.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

His sentiments were validated after efforts to reconfigure the state’s tax credits stalled. Even before stare Rep. Anne Zerr’s legislation passed the House, it was a non-starter in the Senate. State Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, observed that while Zerr’s bill lowered caps on the historic and low-income housing tax credits, it also increased or created other incentives.

That prompted Lamping and state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, to launch a mini-filibuster when the bill was brought up during the last week of session. It marked the latest chapter of intra-chamber disagreement on the issue, and it means that caps on historic and low-income housing tax credits remain unchanged.

Is the transportation tax being steered to a legislative dead end?

Quite the opposite, actually. After being filibustered to death in the Senate last year, lawmakers ended up placing a scaled-down sales tax increase on November’s ballot, giving voters the power to decide. 

Sen. Mike Kehoe's proposal to raise the state's sales tax for transportation purposes is headed to the November ballot.
Sen. Mike Kehoe's proposal to raise the state's sales tax for transportation purposes is headed to the November ballot.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

The backers of the tax deserve credit for gutsiness: After last year’s filibuster, it seemed like the best course would be to go the initiative petition route. But going back to the legislature worked, and now supporters can spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for television ads instead of signature gatherers.

Still, just because the tax jumped over the legislative hurdle doesn’t mean its implementation is assured. Both supporters and detractors of the proposal say it’ll be an extraordinarily tough sell to convince Missouri votes to raise their taxes.

Are Senate Republicans prepared to use a parliamentary maneuver and break the “previous question” moratorium?

Not quite. There were rumblings Senate Republicans were prepared to end debate on legislation requiring a 72-hour waiting period for abortions. That would have ended a long-running freeze on the filibuster-busting “previous motion.”

Instead, the two parties made something of a deal: Senate Democrats would let the abortion legislation and an early voting measure pass. In exchange, Republicans chose not to bring up ballot measures regarding union dues and a photo identification requirement for voting.

In some ways, the decision brings long-term benefits. Republicans won’t face an enraged Democratic caucus next year that could gum up the works. Democrats maintain their ability to use the filibuster to force compromise or kill legislation.

Could Nixon’s veto threats face a challenge from his own party?

This is where things get a little muddled. 

House Speaker Tim Jones' speakership is coming to an end. But he may need to increase enthusiasm within his Republican caucus -- and bring over some Democratic support -- to override Gov. Jay Nixon's potential veto of a school transfer bill.
House Speaker Tim Jones' speakership is coming to an end. But he may need to increase enthusiasm within his Republican caucus -- and bring over some Democratic support -- to override Gov. Jay Nixon's potential veto of a school transfer bill.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

On the one hand, Nixon’s threat to veto the overhaul of the state’s criminal code was largely hollow. When it became evident that the numbers were there to override his objection, he let the measure go into effect without his signature.

The school transfer bill, though, is another story. It passed the Missouri Senate by an overwhelming margin, including a number of Democratic lawmakers. But it received only 89 votes in the House, far short of the 109 needed to override a veto.

Nixon has been adamant about his opposition to the legislation’s so-called “private option,” which could  allow some students to transfer from public schools to private, nonsectarian schools. Nixon’s opposition to taxpayer assistancefor private schools goes back to when he was running for governor, so it is highly possible he will veto Sen. David Pearce’s bill.

Nixon’s decision is a big one.

It’s increasingly likely that Democratic votes will be needed for a veto override. If that’s not going to happen, it may necessitate the legislature coming back for a special session.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads about Missouri politics.