Governor Nixon vetoed a record number of bills—29 in all this year. This is the most he has vetoed in any single year since he took office in 2009. Over the next 30 to 45 days, both the House and the Senate, as well as both parties’ caucuses will meet to re-evaluate the vetoed legislation. A successful override of a governor’s veto needs a two-thirds majority of the members of both chambers.
Perhaps the most controversial bill that the governor vetoed is House Bill 253, tax-cutting legislation that would have cut both personal and corporate taxes for Missourians. These tax cuts would have been phased in over a period of ten years. Supporters of this bill believe that the cuts would have produced opportunities for growth by putting more money in Missourian’s pockets while making our state more competitive in business and industry.
Because of the General Assembly’s threat to override the governor’s veto on HB 253, he has withheld $400 million in funds that the General Assembly appropriated for education, healthcare, state building repairs, and other areas of the state’s budget. This budget went into effect on July 1, 2013, and is the state’s FY 2014 budget. Included in the funds he withheld was $66 million for K-12 education. The feeling among some legislators is that the governor did not need to withhold these funds because this budget year we have surplus funds. In light of this, the governor’s motivation is being questioned.
However, one key achievement of this year’s legislative session was Senate Bill 1, a fix to Missouri’s Second Injury Fund. Governor Nixon signed SB 1 into law on Wednesday of this past week. This bill had good bipartisan support from legislators who realized that the fund had become insolvent and was unable to meet its obligations and pay the claims owed. The insolvency of the fund means that the state has been unable to pay more than 1,300 Missourians who have been awarded claims totaling over $32 million.
The Second Injury Fund was established in 1943 to encourage businesses to hire individuals who previously had been injured or disabled, with special consideration given for those disabled veterans from WW II. At that time, the fund was financed by a surcharge assessed on businesses that paid in to workers’ compensation. Over the years other workplace injuries and occupational diseases were added which caused the fund to pay out more money for claims that were not originally covered under the Second Injury Fund.
With the signing of this legislation, Missouri will now begin to compensate injured workers who previously were not paid because of lack of state funds. The Attorney General administers the Second Injury Fund and has delayed payments to Missourians who are owed claims until legislation was passed to address the financial shortage. Today, there are 30,000 others who have claims pending that will need to be decided and settled in the future.
The fund will be replenished by increasing the surcharges that businesses pay on their workers’ compensation. The increase will go from 3%, which was capped by the legislature in 2005, to 6%. The 6% will begin in January of 2014 and remain at that level through 2021. The additional money over this time frame should make the fund solvent again. Also, the bill would place most of the state occupational disease claims back within the workers’ compensation system. The increased revenues will allow the state to make payments on the backlog of claims. Future costs will be held down by limiting the fund’s coverage to only the most serious work-related disabilities.
While this is not a perfect bill, it is a solution that will provide a long overdue answer to a major problem in our state. The governor, in signing the bill, called this legislation “a fair solution to a difficult, complex, and long-running problem.”