Keeping promises

Sunday, May 18, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri's first Republican General Assembly in half a century this year faced an abysmal economy, a lack of realistic executive direction and the challenge posed by a decade of bad decisions made under one-party control between Missouri's legislature and governor's office.

In convening the session, the new legislative majority -- including 90 new House members, most without previous legislative experience -- was committed to keeping its promises to the people and to make tough decisions on behalf of the citizens who elected them.

Now that this year's regular legislative session has ended, citizens and lawmakers can take pride in a responsible and productive session that gives citizens more efficient government without the $730 million in tax increases the governor requested.

The on-time budget was passed with bipartisan support and is within 2 percent of what was requested by the governor without the cost, delay and uncertainty of asking voters to consider tax increases they rejected just last fall.

In formulating the budget, lawmakers met the governor halfway in both program cuts and new revenue. We cut millions in bureaucratic waste, closed over half the governor's tax loopholes, preserved children's health insurance and maintained the SeniorRx program to help seniors with prescription costs.

Yet, the governor continues to want to spend more and tax more.

While we use every available source to protect against cuts to education, he misuses the state jet. While we cut legislative spending by 15 percent, he holds a million dollar inaugural bash. While we give lowest-paid state employees their first pay raise in three years, the governor imposes collective bargaining that takes money from workers who decline to join unions.

Missouri stands as the only Midwestern state still mired in recession.

We have another unfortunate distinction. Missouri is leading the nation in the number of lost jobs. The $730 million in tax increases proposed by the governor would be akin to throwing an anchor to a drowning man.

Instead of embracing record-setting tax increases, the General Assembly passed legislation to save almost 3,000 jobs at the Hazelwood Ford Plant and 1,100 jobs at the Noranda facility in Southeast Missouri.

In addition, we passed the Missouri Downtown Economic Stimulus Act and expanded it to help farmers and the rural parts of our state.

To protect senior citizens we passed the nursing home reform act which is designed to direct resources to struggling facilities, stiffen penalties for substandard homes and reduce the burden of inspections for well- managed facilities.

To keep seniors from being taxed from their homes, we expanded the homestead exemption on the property tax.

And to better protect children, we overhauled the state's foster care system, established an amber alert program and placed the sex offender registry on the Internet.

This session Missouri became the first state to adopt new protections for securities buyers, we restored protections for religious freedom and saw the passage of tort reform legislation to assure the continued availability of local doctors and quality health care for all Missourians.

The legislature passed the law allowing Missourians the option of protecting ourselves through the right to carry, banned human cloning, and assured informed consent with a reasonable, 24-hour waiting period before an abortion can be performed.

Yet the governor is angry because we kept our promise to the people to ensure government lives within its means.

During my first opening address as Senate president pro tem, I quoted an inscription etched into the walls of our state Capitol: "To serve, Not to Be Served." As a result of the hard work and honest effort of state lawmakers this year, we have succeeded in many areas. Perhaps most important is moving state government closer to serving the people, and further from being served. The governor would be well served to follow our example in keeping promises to the people -- the people we all should serve.

Peter Kinder is assistant to the chairman of Rust Communications and president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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