Senate Republicans list goals

Saturday, January 24, 2004

By Peter Kinder

We believe the people of Missouri want state government to put first things first, show progress, achieve goals and move Missouri forward.

While there are several elements of the governor's agenda that Republicans in the legislature do not agree with, we are certainly open to discussing them. Honest, reasonable people can differ yet work through these differences to truly serve the best interests of everyone. In this way we place our citizens first -- before politics, before individual interests, before special interests.

Our first, and toughest, objective this session is long-term budget reform that provides budget stability, improved accountability and better management of state resources. The state must do what every Missourian does in tough times: cut waste, manage more efficiently and spend within our means.

The legislature and governor should work together to pass a balanced budget based on actual revenue the state can expect to legally collect under current law, rather than using tax increases -- what we refer to as "imaginary revenue" -- that would require voter approval not likely to be given.

The governor has proposed a tax increase with his budget proposals for the past three years: $230 million in 2003, $730 million in 2004 and $520 million for the 2005 budget. This is the second year in a row the governor has proposed that we pass a tax the voters have previously rejected. Since 1987, only two tax increases have passed. Both were for conservation. The message from the people of Missouri is clear: Don't raise taxes to balance the budget.

I have proposed a balanced-budget constitutional amendment that would disallow the governor and legislature from balancing the budget with tax increases that require future voter approval. The idea that the governor or legislature spends hundreds of millions of dollars that require voter authorization of tax increases before voters have even had the chance to vote is not right.

An equally important objective is the protection of our children's future with no cuts to education funding. Our goal this legislative session is to keep overall education spending at current funding levels.

We must make tough choices, and the governor must make tough choices. By deciding to withhold $200 million dollars the legislature approved for schools, the governor triggered a lawsuit against his own administration. While the courts review this case, the legislature is working to improve education and the foundation formula.

We strongly believe that money alone is not the answer to making Missouri's schools some of the best in the country. Over the past five years, elementary and secondary student enrollment has not grown. However, during that same period state funding for education increased by over $2 billion dollars. We must identify where we can cut red tape and reduce unnecessary regulations that cause local schools to spend dollars on the wrong priorities and ensure that those dollars go to teachers and classrooms instead of administrative budgets.

Another important objective this year is providing a more stable job and long-term business environment, allowing Missouri's businesses to expand and hire more workers. This objective is best accomplished by addressing the four key issues of taxation, litigation, regulation and workers' compensation. Missouri's hostile regulatory climate is costing the state jobs. Foster-care reform, better disclosure of sex offenders and reforming mental-health services provided for children all contribute to an important fourth objective: enacting laws that better protect Missouri's families and communities.

Lastly, we again pledge to work in bipartisan cooperation to accomplish these goals. By working together, we can move Missouri forward. We will continue to work together in a way that puts the people of Missouri ahead of politics. Let us move Missouri forward by putting first things first. Only then will we achieve our goals. Only then will we be successful.

Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau is the president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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