House Budget Chairman Unveils Plan to Fund Road and Bridge Improvements without Raising Taxes or Incurring New Debt (HB 4)

House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith unveiled a spending plan this week that makes a significant investment in state transportation infrastructure without raising taxes or incurring new debt for the state. Smith rolled out the committee substitutes for the appropriations bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2020 state spending plan, which includes a $100 million appropriation to pay for road and bridge improvements.

Smith said the $100 million in general revenue will be dedicated to the State Road Fund for bridge projects in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which sets the transportation projects the Missouri Department of Transportation will undertake. Smith emphasized the importance of crafting a plan that provides adequate funding for Missouri’s transportation needs without putting the state further into debt.

The funding allocation for transportation infrastructure is contained in House Bill 4, which is one of the 13 appropriations bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2020 state operating budget. The House Budget Committee will work through the bills next week and consider potential amendments. The House will then take up the bills on the floor during the week of March 25-29.

POACHING

Members of the House of Representatives have approved legislation that would create stiffer penalties for poaching certain animals.

Supporters say the bill will address an issue that currently exists where it’s cheaper for a non-Missourian to come into the state, poach an animal, and pay the fine than it is to buy an out-of-state hunting tag. The bill would increase the fines for poaching wild turkeys, deer, elk, black bears, or paddlefish in Missouri. Specifically, it would make the fines range from $500 to $1,000 for poaching a wild turkey or paddlefish; between $2,000 and $5,000 for poaching a white-tailed deer; and between $10,000 and $15,000 for poaching a black bear or elk.

“What I want to do is I want to make people think twice before they pull the trigger,” said the bill’s sponsor.

Missouri in 2011 began bringing elk into the state from Kentucky with an aim of reestablishing the population of the animal here, and an eventual goal of having an elk hunting season. The Department of Conservation says elk hunting could begin as early as next year and that could bring millions of dollars into the state, but the sponsor said poaching is hurting the chances of that happening, and the current fines for poaching are not a deterrent.

“We’re spending on average about $30- to $40-thousand dollars per elk when we brought them back to Missouri to reintroduce them and the penalty to poach an elk is about $150 to $200 right now, if you’re caught,” said the sponsor.

The poaching of paddlefish has been very lucrative because paddlefish roe is often sold on the black market as caviar. This means one fish can be worth thousands of dollars. Supporters say they are happy the bill includes increased fines for poaching those fish.

When a fine is collected under HB 260 that money would go to the school district in which the poaching incident occurred.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT Legislation is now headed to the Senate that would allow the Missouri Department of Economic Development to improve and consolidate its workforce development programs. House members approved the bill that allows the department to consolidate three work force training programs into the Missouri One Start program.

The bill sponsor said the consolidation of the programs will allow for more flexibility and efficiency, and will allow more businesses to take advantage of the program. He noted that the changes will be possible without the need for additional funding. “This is our Department of Economic Development coming to us asking us to allow them to be more efficient and run better,” he said.

Currently, the program allows administrative expenses to 15 percent of total training costs. The bill approved by the House limits such expenses to a reasonable amount determined by the Department of Economic Development. In creating rules and regulations governing the Missouri One Start Training Program, the bill requires the department to consider such factors as the potential number of new jobs to be created, the amount of new capital investment in new facilities and equipment, the significance of state benefits to the qualified company’s decision to locate or expand in Missouri, the economic need of the affected community, and the importance of the qualified company to the economic development of the state.

The bill also allows the department to require a qualified business to repay all benefits if such business fails to maintain the new or retained jobs within five years of approval of benefits or if such business leaves the state within five years of approval of benefits.

OTHER LEGISLATION

HB 588 requires the Department of Agriculture to convene a work group every five years to review all fees charged by the department and submit a report to the General Assembly on any recommended changes to the fees. The bill also increases the fees for several programs and licenses within the department’s Plant Industries Division. Supporters say it is important to adequately fund the Department of Agriculture because it provides important services to the largest industry in the state. Many of the fees have not been increased since the 1980’s and are not covering the cost of implementing the associated programs. It is also important to review the fees associated with the programs regularly and ensure the department is fully funded.

HB 333 extends the sunset date for an income tax credit for surviving spouses of public safety officers who are killed in the line of duty from 2019 to 2027. The bill subtracts interest received on deposits held at a Federal Reserve Bank from a taxpayer’s Missouri adjusted gross income. Supporters say right now banks are paying both corporate tax and bank tax on interest held in the Federal Reserve Bank and this bill removes the tax they have to pay on corporate tax. Under this bill, Federal Reserve Bank interest is reported clearly in only one place and will eliminate any confusion.

HBs 161 & 401 prohibits local school districts from setting an opening date for the school term that is more than 14 calendar days prior to the first Monday in September. Supporters say that as school start dates have become earlier, students who participate in fall sports and agricultural education have had to choose between the two activities. It has hurt more than just those students participating in agricultural education events; it has hurt the tourism industry as well.

HB 220 specifies that any real or tangible personal property associated with a project which uses wind energy directly to generate electricity shall be valued and taxed by any state and local authorities having jurisdiction. Supporters say the bill would allow the tax revenue generated by the wind energy project to stay in the local jurisdiction. Local governments used tax incentive programs to attract wind generation projects knowing that the project would bring additional tax revenues to the area. Without this bill, that additional tax revenue would be spread across the state, with little to no revenue remaining in the local jurisdiction.

HB 587 repeals the Missouri Treated Timber Law. Supporters say Missouri is the only state left to have a program similar to this. A national wood products association also offers certification. Many retailers are inspected by the department and the association.

HCR 18 urges public schools to institute JROTC in their schools. Supporters say very few schools in the state currently offer the program which includes many skills that would help a participant gain employment.

REAL ID

Missourians received good news this week as the Missouri Department of Revenue announced that it is on schedule to offer REAL ID-compliant driver licenses and nondriver identification on March 25. The REAL ID-compliant forms of identification will be necessary effective Oct. 1, 2020 for residents to fly domestically.

It was during the 2017 legislative session that Missouri General Assembly approved legislation to give residents the option to obtain a photo ID that is compliant with the federal REAL ID Act. Because the current version of the Missouri driver license is not compliant, DHS announced in January of 2016 that Missourians would not be able to enter federal facilities and would not be able to fly domestically beginning in 2018. The federal government has since granted multiple extensions to give Missourians additional months to utilize their existing licenses.

The revenue department director said, “We look forward to being able to start offering REAL ID-compliant driver licenses and ID cards on March 25. However, we want to stress to our customers that there’s no immediate need to rush to apply because the current Missouri-issued license and ID card will afford the same access as a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card until October 2020.”

Effective Oct. 1, 2020, individuals will also be required to present a REAL ID-compliant driver license or ID card, or another form of acceptable ID, to access federal facilities, including military bases and federal courthouses, and to enter nuclear power plants.

The Department anticipates increased foot traffic and longer wait times at license offices in the weeks immediately following the start of REAL ID-compliant license and ID card availability.

The transaction and processing fees for a REAL ID-compliant license or ID card, new or renewal, will be the same as they are currently.

Visit dor.mo.gov/drivers/real-id-information/ for a complete listing of acceptable documents for REAL ID-compliant license and ID card processing, as well as other important information regarding REAL ID. For more information about the REAL ID Act, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website at dhs.gov/real-id.

LIVE STREAMING

Committee Chairs were updated this week that beginning on Monday, the majority of committee hearings in the House will now be live video streamed on the official website of the Missouri House of Representatives.  Prior to the start of the 2019 legislative session, the Speaker directed House staff to implement a system to allow for video streaming of the majority of House committee hearings. The system that is now in place will allow all hearings that take place in House Hearing Rooms 1, 3, 5, and 7 to be streamed. Missourians can watch the feed by visiting www.house.mo.gov and clicking the “Hearing Room Feeds” link.

This is part of our ongoing commitment to improve government transparency by giving Missourians a front row seat to observe the legislative process in action.  While hearings will be streamed, by default, the hearings (other than Budget) will not be recorded.  If you would also like to have your hearings recorded and archived, please contact Trevor Fox in House Communications to arrange for that.

Thank you for reading my capitol report. I am honored to represent you.