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Talk of tax cuts, right to work and schools kicks off Missouri legislative session

01/08/2014 5:32 PM

01/08/2014 10:40 PM

Republican legislative leaders remain united in their quest to cut taxes in Missouri as the General Assembly kicked off its 2014 session Wednesday.

House Speaker Tim Jones and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey vowed to renew the fight for a broad-based tax cut killed last year by a Gov. Jay Nixon veto.

“Missourians need and want lower taxes,” said Jones, a Eureka Republican.

After taxes, differences over legislative priorities between the House and Senate began to emerge.

Jones repeatedly declared his unwavering support Wednesday for a vote on right-to-work legislation that would prohibit unions from collecting fees as a condition of employment.

Dempsey, however, said the issue has “not been a fight I’ve been enthusiastic to take on.”

Democrats and a few Republicans have threatened to filibuster any right-to-work bill in the past. Nixon has pledged to veto it, although lawmakers could bypass him by referring the measure to the November ballot.

Jones said the time has arrived for Missouri to debate the issue. He argued that a right-to-work law would make the state more attractive to businesses considering relocation.

Dempsey said his top priority is changing a state law that requires failing school districts to pay for students who choose to transfer to neighboring districts. Many fear that requirement could bankrupt urban schools and leave their suburban counterparts overcrowded.

“Every child deserves access to a quality education, but the process now is a logistical nightmare that will only get worse next year,” Dempsey said. “If we are able to only pass one important piece of legislation besides the budget, it needs to be a bill that will fix this problem.”

Jones downplayed the urgency of the issue, saying students in failing districts are finally being offered a choice. Anything that limits that choice “should not even be considered.”

As for Democrats — outnumbered 108-52 in the House and 24-9 in the Senate — the focus remains where it was last year: expanding Medicaid to cover an additional 300,000 uninsured Missourians.

“We cannot allow petty partisan stubbornness to prevent Missouri from reaping the significant economic benefits expansion would provide,” said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat.

Democrats say Medicaid expansion would pump billions of dollars into Missouri’s economy and create 24,000 jobs. Republicans worry about the long-term costs and have argued the system needs to be overhauled before any discussion of expansion can take place.

The legislative session runs through May 16.

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