Other topics discussed at this year’s summer caucus that might become priorities for the 2016 Legislative Session are ethics reform legislation, a state transportation plan, and possible pay increases for state employees (not elected officials or judges). Several newsworthy events taking place in the past few months involving ethics and ethical behavior in state government elected officials has prompted the need to take a hard look at reform. Yet it must be pointed out that poor and unethical behavior among some elected officials in the legislature is certainly not the norm. The huge majority of elected men and women are upstanding and are at the capitol to only do the best job they possibly can. Furthermore, this problem is not specific to any particular political party, and, in fact, has brought down elected officials from both parties this year. In efforts to help others avoid such irresponsible actions in the future, we heard a presentation from former Speaker of the House, Rod Jeton, who admittedly made many poor choices when he served four years as Speaker of the House. He shared good advice with us on how to avoid making some of the same mistakes he made and reminded us to treat others as we would want to be treated. We also heard from former Missouri Democratic State Senator Jeff Smith who was invited to the Republican caucus to discuss ethics and the situation that landed him in a federal prison. Ethics reform is really bi-partisan and both of these presentations were timely and important for all elected officials in attendance.
Besides personal ethics being addressed, state ethics legislation was discussed as a topic for next session. It will come back up this year because it was agreed there is a need for such reform. Basically everyone in the state agrees that we have weak ethics laws and are in dire need to address this with a good piece of ethics reform legislation. Some are saying that the lack of strong ethics laws has helped encourage bad behavior. Presently, Missouri is the only state in the nation with no limits on campaign contributions, no limits on lobbyist’s gifts, and no cooling off period between the time a lawmaker leaves an office and when he or she can become a lobbyist. We are attempting to develop legislation for the upcoming session to adequately address some of these issues.
Another priority for the 2016 session is transportation. We must come up with a workable plan to help fund needed repairs and renovations for existing highways, roads, and bridges in our state. Even though MoDot received an unanticipated $47 million more this year because of higher than expected statewide growth (above the general revenue estimate), this increase in funding does not completely solve Missouri’s transportation problem; however, it will help the state to meet its obligation in order to receive federal funds for FY17. We still need to address the overall funding issue.
Finally, the General Assembly must address the Missouri state employees’ pay situation. Salaries for our state employees rank near the bottom of state workers’ wages anywhere in our nation. Because of low salaries, we are experiencing a higher than normal employee turn-over rate. Obviously it is in our best interest to keep our good employees, but in order to do that, we must be more competitive salary-wise. This needs to be a priority in future state budgets.
On a national level, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt made a brief stop at the summer caucus and gave us an update on several federal issues, including the Senate vote to de-fund Planned Parenthood following the recent public outcry over their appalling actions, the illegal immigration problem and our failure to protect our borders, the Iran Nuclear Treaty and its implications to the U.S., and the over-reaching Environmental Protection Agency and their penchant to place obstacles in the way of opportunity for economic growth.
This year’s summer caucus was well planned, well attended, and provided a wealth of information for all in attendance.