Legislature's attempts to seek realistic solutions

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Imagine you're the governor of Missouri. Your own administration informed Missourians last December that, while most of the country was resuming growth, the Show Me State was the only midwestern state still in recession. Headlines informed us that Missouri led the nation in job losses.

A new Republican legislative majority has taken power in both houses of the General Assembly, the first for this party after 48 years in the wilderness. On the budget, in the midst of the worst fiscal situation Missouri has faced in 70 years, the new legislative majority works for four months and gives you a budget that is within 1.7 percent of the funds you asked for in your January budget message.

You respond by vetoing four of the 12 budget bills comprising $12 billion of the nearly $19 billion state budget, demanding that lawmakers return for two expensive special sessions, with another set of vetoes in between, at the end of which you receive very nearly the same budget lawmakers had sent you six weeks before.

This new majority -- leadership and rank-and-file alike -- is determined to address the worsening climate for business and job creation by enacting one measure after another to improve the same, with an eye to restoring our competitive position among the states, and especially among our immediate neighbors. Let's go through the list.

Lawsuit reform bill: After early House passage, the Senate goes through a grueling, 35-hour filibuster. Senate passage is gained as one Democrat joins 20 Republicans in backing it. The bill reaches your desk only to meet with your veto pen at the behest of the trial lawyers. On the day you announce your veto, a Wall Street Journal editorial calls attention to your act, highlighting the American Medical Association's designation of Missouri as one of 19 states with a lawsuit-liability crisis that is harming business and driving doctors out of the practice. With the discouraging news of your veto, an untold number of obstetricians and other physicians finally throw in the towel.

Small-business regulatory relief bill: A brand-new board to which small businesses can take an appeal of burdensome government regulations? The legislature puts this one on your desk. You veto it.

A bill banning bogus lawsuits by cities against gun manufacturers: Passes with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. You veto it. (See above.)

Workers compensation reform bill: After House passage, this one falls short in the Senate and doesn't make it to your desk, owing to opposition from members of your party and two key constituencies to whom you can't say no: labor bosses and ... trial lawyers!

Employment-security reform bill: The legislature passes this remedy to cutr down on unnecessary and undeserving claims. You veto it.

Your answers to the challenges Missouri faces are (1) $700 million to $1 billion in higher taxes and (2) the forced unionization of state employees by executive order -- a "reform" that never mustered a legislative majority even during decades of Democratic control.

Legislators block your tax increases. You demonize them with a six-figure ad campaign. You are Bob Holden.

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

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