Revenue-neutral proposals key to promoting economic growth in our state

Friday, January 7, 2011

Financial woes dominate any discussion of state or federal politics these days. In Washington, D.C., we are running a trillion-dollar budget deficit, and our national debt will soon exceed $14 trillion. How much is that? To pay back $14 trillion, you'd have to spend $1 every second for the next 443,000 years. That's not counting interest.

In Missouri, lawmakers will face a projected $500 million budget deficit. But, unlike how things are run in our nation's capitol, Missouri state government is required by law to balance its budget each year. That is not going to be an easy feat. State revenue continues to lag, the $700 million in federal stimulus that was used to backfill state government last year is gone, and after several hard years of paring down our state budget, there are fewer and fewer places left to cut.

If we've learned anything from the failed federal stimulus programs over the last two years, it is that we can't spend our way to prosperity. That doesn't mean that state economic development should be put on the back burner until more prosperous times. In fact, it means the opposite. Now, more than ever, lawmakers need to put jobs in the forefront of the debate. And perhaps the most valuable economic development investment lawmakers can make this session won't require any outlay of state funds at all.

This legislative session, the business community is advocating a unified agenda of six legislative policy reforms that will help Missouri better compete for jobs. These priorities are bottom-line issues for employers, including:

* Reforming employment law to bring balance back in Missouri courts in employee discrimination cases;

* Turning back court rulings that have allowed some injured workers to file lawsuits instead of handling claims through the workers comp system;

* Taking another step toward ending the double taxation of Missouri employers by capping the franchise tax;

* Eliminating Missouri's minimum wage escalator to prevent Missouri's wage from rising above competitive levels;

* Ending the practice of joint and several liability, which often unfairly saddles employers with a disproportionate level of liability in cases; and

* Extending the length of term for bonds that could be used to shore up Missouri's strapped unemployment insurance system to avoid additional interest payments and the loss of FUTA tax credits.

Key to the proposals is the revenue neutrality of the each priority. None of the priorities will have a fiscal cost to the state. At the same time, no other proposal before the General Assembly has as great a potential to grow Missouri revenue, because successful passage will impact every employer in our state and will create jobs.

How will it create jobs? It will better position our state against our competition. In several of the areas highlighted in our legislative priorities, Missouri is at a clear competitive disadvantage with other states. No other nearby state double-taxes its employers with a franchise tax. Missouri stands out among its neighboring states with its minimum-wage escalator, and Missouri is poised to rise to a level higher than any other adjoining state.

But it is not just how we stack up against the Midwest. Missouri is competing in a global economy, and we must constantly monitor policy to ensure that we making the best case for encouraging business to expand or locate in our state. While one unfair court ruling won't change a business' decision to move to Missouri, a trend of unbalanced court rulings will have an impact.

That's why we ask lawmakers to act now on these responsible reforms. We don't have 443,000 years to fix our economy and balance our budget.

Daniel P. Mehan is the president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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