Recently, House Speaker Todd Richardson took some time to outline part of what he sees for the 2017 legislative agenda. Speaker Richardson has had the opportunity to meet several times with Governor-Elect Greitens to discuss the common ground that can be found between the executive and legislative branches of state government. Some of their talks have centered around a future vision for what lies in store for our state. That vision is for a Missouri that respects and protects individual freedoms, for a Missouri that has a stronger, more vibrant dynamic economy than what we have today, and for a Missouri that seeks more good quality jobs for all its citizens. It also seeks a Missouri that has a strong education system for every student, no matter where they were born or where they live in the state.
The Speaker went to say that his top priority will be built around improving our state’s economy. That means labor reform, tort reform, and education reform. Continuing on, he said, “I think it will focus on these issues, as well as removing some of the government barriers that stand in the way of economic development. This will be a good agenda to start with.” Perhaps first on the agenda will be labor reform, including “Right-to-Work.” Missouri is poised to become the 27th state to pass this legislation, legislation aimed at preventing employees from being required to join a union as a condition of employment. Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are already Right-to-Work states. Missouri may soon join their number.
In addition to Right-to-Work, tort reform, and education reform, ethics reform will soon follow. The Speaker pointed out that ethics and ethics reform will be very important as we move forward under the new administration, as our state’s citizens see this as a major priority.
As the General Assembly looks ahead to the 2017 Session, there is an understanding that we will face another very difficult budget situation. Governor-Elect Greitens is coming in at the middle of the FY17 budget year, which has already seen Governor Nixon withhold $150 million. It is projected that the new governor may have to withhold as much as $200 million more from this budget because of budget shortfalls.
The good news is that the state has seen revenue grow by as much as 4.5% since July. However, that news is countered by the fact that the state saw revenue numbers drop dramatically in the final months of the previous fiscal year, which put the state in a significant budget hole. Consequently, the state’s revenue must grow to prevent the need for any additional withholds and to restore the cuts that have already been made in the budget. Realistically, because growth at such a high level (6%+) is unlikely, the Budget Chairman will work with the new governor to find areas where budget withholds can be made without negatively impacting important state services and programs.
In addition to the concerns about the current budget, the state also faces a significant hurdle when it takes up the budget for the next fiscal year. That hurdle is the staggering cost of Medicaid and its related programs, including the growth in Medicaid. Furthermore, other state departments anticipate the need of an additional $150 million increase for their operating budgets for the next fiscal year. In order to keep up with all this, state revenues must grow by at least 6%, and in the event they do not grow at this level, the Budget Committee will be forced to take a serious look at ways to reign in the cost of Medicaid and the other programs.
This time is a time of anticipation—anticipation that a new governor and administration will have fresh ideas and fresh influence to help the state conquer all obstacles in its pathway as we move forward. It is also a time to be patient, support the new guys on the block as they get their footing and do our part to help ensure their tenure is one of success and satisfaction, not only for them but for the entire State of Missouri. We look to the future with bright hopes and positive expectations.