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May God bless you - Representative Bill Reiboldt
This past week was Spring Break for Missouri’s General Assembly. Spring Break marks the halfway point in the 2015 Legislative Session, and when we return we will continue to address the important issues that are facing our state.
While driving back and forth to Jefferson City, as well as around Newton County, I am reminded of how beautiful springtime is in our area. I am also reminded of how fortunate we are to live and work in Southwest Missouri and of the responsibility that each of us have as citizens to help keep our area beautiful by properly disposing of our trash as well as being respectful and courteous while traveling our state’s highways and roads.
The month of April is Missouri’s annual No MOre Trash! Bash campaign that, basically, is spring cleaning of Missouri’s outdoors. As part of their anti-litter campaign efforts, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), sponsor the Trash Bash. Missourians are encouraged to help clean up litter from roadways, parks, rivers and streams across the state, as well as conduct educational efforts in schools to help make Missouri students aware of the responsibility all residents have to keep our state clean.
Foreign ownership of Missouri farmland has been an ongoing issue during the last three legislative sessions, but this issue really came to the forefront in 2013 with the passage of Senate Bill 9, an agriculture omnibus bill that included a provision to cap all foreign ownership at 1% of the approximate 29 million acres of Missouri farmland.
Foreign investors love to buy and invest their money in U.S. farmland. Today they own about 2% of all privately held agriculture land in the U.S. and 1% of the total United States’ land. In Missouri, foreign investors own just less than ½ of 1% of our state’s farmland. SB 9 was passed to address the increasing problem of foreign investors continuing to buy Missouri farmland and going around the existing statutes to do so.
In the 2013 Veto Session, the General Assembly overrode Governor Nixon’s veto of SB 9. This bill contained several important measures for Missouri agriculture, including a provision to limit foreign ownership to 1% of our state’s farmland. Before this legislation, Missouri statutes prohibited foreign ownership of farmland within the state. However, foreigners, as well as foreign investors, already owned thousands of acres here. Possibly some of this land was owned in violation of Missouri law, but most of the land owned by foreigners was due to the many exceptions that were made in the law. Furthermore, some of these acres were purchased before the 1978 law was passed.
Missouri’s FY16 budget is estimated to be $26.1 billion. This past week was budget week for the Missouri House of Representatives, and the thirteen bills that will make up the fiscal 2016 state budget received first round approval from members of the House.
The number one responsibility of the House is to appropriate and pass a balanced budget for the state. In fact, Missouri’s constitution includes a balanced budget amendment, whose purpose is to prevent the State of Missouri from deficit spending. This means that the State cannot pass a budget that will involve spending more revenue than is actually available.
One of the responsibilities of the governor is to manage expenditures and make sure that state bills are paid. Toward the end the of the year, before the Session begins in January, the governor’s budget director and the House and Senate budget chairs come together to establish a consensus revenue estimate. This estimate serves as a starting point for the budget by determining approximately how much revenue will be coming in to the state.
Could a tobacco tax increase be back on the 2016 ballot? Already there are a number of ballot petition initiatives and legislative referendums that are being discussed. One such measure seeks to increase Missouri’s tobacco tax.
The tobacco tax is perhaps one of the last “untapped” sources of revenue for the state. Currently, we have the lowest state tax on tobacco in the nation, at 17 cents per package of 20 cigarettes. Besides the state excise tax on cigarettes, there is a federal excise tax of $1.01 per pack. This makes the total cigarette excise tax—sometimes called a sin tax—in Missouri at $1.18 per pack. When adding together the price of the tobacco plus the sales tax, smoking equals a very expensive habit. For some, the idea to tax what is unhealthy and spend it on something that is more positive seems to justify a tax increase on a product like tobacco.
Thursday was a sad day for all Missourians as we received word of the tragic death of Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich.
After the House had adjourned from its morning session, and upon returning to the office, I received a note saying that Auditor Schweich had been taken to a St. Louis hospital with a medical situation and to be prayerful for him. Shortly after that, it was announced that he had passed away and there was to be a memorial prayer service in the House chamber. I was able to attend this service before traveling home.
Everyone at the Capitol is in shock and disbelief upon hearing of the death of Auditor Schweich. Though most of us do not understand why this happened, we realize there are times when we just have to accept things as they are. Now may be one of those times. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schweich family: wife, Kathy, daughter, Emily, and son Thomas, Jr. This tragic loss has to be extremely difficult for them and our heartfelt sympathy goes their direction. Tom Schweich had a brilliant mind, was incredibly honest, and was a devoted and dedicated public servant. We may never know why things happened as they did, but we do know he was focused on making Missouri and the world a better place. Thank you, Tom Schweich, for your service to our state. It was very much appreciated.
Select Committee on Agriculture - Chairman
Appropriations - Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources