By Rick Johnson
Last week marked the beginning of the 2004 session of the Missouri Legislature.
Opening day is always an exciting time with all the fanfare and anticipation that comes with the start of a new year. It is also the day when Missourians get to hear what they can expect from their elected officials.
The Democrats in the House announced a plan that demonstrates our commitment to finding solutions to Missouri's challenges instead of opting for quick political fixes.
I and my Democratic colleagues made three pledges. We pledged that we will protect and improve education, fight for a healthy Missouri and demand that our state government is a good government.
Our pledge to education means we have dedicated ourselves to putting all new education dollars gained this year into the front line of learning.
Supporting education's front line means dedicating our education dollars to support more teachers in the classrooms, creating smaller class sizes, paying the current qualified teachers a better wage and ensuring the classrooms are equipped with the tools needed for the students to learn.
Last year, the legislative leadership wrote a bad check to our schools, resulting in the biggest education cut in this state's history. Now residents all over Missouri are having to vote for higher property taxes in order to preserve the quality of their schools.
Our pledge includes opposition to any more painful cuts to education.
Our pledge to fight for a healthier Missouri means that we will work to put patients and doctors in control of health care and offer a plan that provides relief to patients, doctors and small businesses.
For us to be a healthier state, we must ensure the rights and safety of patients are recognized, allow doctors to make decisions based on what is good medicine and ensure that Missourians have access to good health care and that there are enough doctors to meet the needs of their patients.
The issues of health care are broad, and our pledge will address a variety of problems with the medical system. But whether we are working to ensure that doctors can afford to practice or to help a small business owner pay for his or her employees' health plan, we are dedicated to helping people receive the care they need to stay healthy and not go bankrupt doing it.
Finally, we pledge to demand good government through sound fiscal policy by improving, rather than abandoning, our budget process, by protecting Missouri consumers and businesses from fraud and by putting Missouri businesses first.
A good government is a fiscally sound and responsible government.
Only through fiscal discipline and fiscal honesty can we move Missouri forward.
A good government also protects its consumers from those who seek to take advantage of them or to unfairly profit from their losses.
House Democrats realize that Missouri businesses succeed when consumers feel confident that they are not being cheated or defrauded.
And a good government puts its own businesses first and empowers local communities and regions to take the steps necessary to spur economic development in their own hometown areas.
We look forward to outlining our plan to fulfill each of these pledges in more detail in the upcoming weeks.
But these pledges demonstrate our dedication to advancing ideas instead of ideologies and finding real solutions to the challenges our state faces. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and hope that together we can make this a better state for all of us.
State Rep. Rick Johnson of High Ridge, Mo., is the minority leader in the Missouri House of Representatives.