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Focus turns to Nixon as legislative session ends


By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio


Jefferson City, Mo. – Now that the 2010 Missouri legislative session is over, the focus is on Governor Jay Nixon and what he will do with the more than one hundred bills sent to him by the General Assembly.

While he got much of what he wanted, the governor is not happy that lawmakers failed to pass a major jobs bill.

Nixon told reporters minutes after the session ended Friday that it was frustrating that none of this year's jobs bills made it across the finish line. He spent the final week pressing lawmakers to approve a number of packages, including one to entice Ford Motor Company to expand its operations in the Kansas City area.

"These proposals are vital to insure that Missouri can compete in the 21st Century economy, and as we work our way out of an economic challenge it's important we have all the tools and the sharp tools necessary to get that done," Nixon said.

But the State Senate let the auto jobs bill die on the final day of session when the House refused to bring up a separate bill dealing with state pensions. The governor had also pushed to reduce the amount of tax credits handed out each year while a handful of fiscally-conservative senators pushed for legislative oversight of all incentives. The House said "no" to both. Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley says they tried numerous times to get a jobs bill passed.

"We sent about three version of it, and the Senate sat on it," Tilley said. "I'll be perfectly candid with you: the governor was missing in action. We had a bill that would have provided the relief to potentially get the deal done, and he shows up in the middle of the last week, starts talking about tax credits."

House Republicans also touted the passage of the state budget during difficult economic times and one week ahead of schedule. But Democrat Paul LeVota, the Minority Floor Leader, said there could have been more money for next year's budget if the GOP had looked for ways to capture revenue.

"It goes back to what we've been saying before, that [if] you continually cut, cut, cut, it's just not gonna work," LeVota said. "You got to have a balanced approach to bring things in. Now because of the inaction of this Republican legislature, the governor's gonna have to again fix the budget for these guys."

LeVota also referred to this year as the "non-binding session," saying that lawmakers could have gotten a lot more done if the GOP hadn't focused so much time on legislation aimed at Washington. The only non-binding resolution that passed sets up an August referendum on whether the state will observe the new federal health care law signed by President Obama.

The Missouri Senate spent much of the session pushing bills designed to shrink the size of state government. Legislation to merge the Missouri Highway Patrol and Water Patrol into one force made it out, but the combining of the state's two education agencies did not. President Pro-tem Charlie Shields believes the merger of Elementary and Secondary Education with Higher Education is inevitable.

"And the reason they'll come together may be driven by the budget, but in the long term, creating a better system of education in our state is what I expect to be the outcome of that," Shields said. "Not everything happens in one session, and I think that's one of those items, though, that had a good airing out."

Lawmakers did pass bills that toughen drunk driving penalties and provide autism insurance coverage. They also passed an ethics bill that restricts money transfers between campaign committees but does not cap contributions. And the governor was sent a bill that would expand the information women must be given 24 hours before having an abortion. Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri - St. Louis, said Nixon's decision on the bill could affect his bid for re-election.

"The Republicans probably won't matter to him so much, the governor is unlikely to get many Republican votes, but it could hurt him with independents, and with pro-life Democrats, if he refuses to sign the bill," Robertson said.

But Robertson also said Nixon's decision on the abortion bill may not matter to voters in 2012 if a bad economy continues to plague the state's budget.

"Other states are in worse shape, they're having terrible battles. Missouri has been spared some of that for the time being, but make no mistake about it, the cuts are deep, they're gonna hurt, they are hurting lots and lots of different kinds of people."

And Governor Nixon has already said he'll have to cut next year's budget. It could happen when he signs it in June, after the start of the new fiscal year, or both.


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