Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Jason Smith's view of 2017; Gov. Greiten's cuts to higher ed

Rep. Jason Smith stopped by the Southeast Missourian offices to meet with the editorial board on Wednesday, Jan. 24. He provided a forceful update of hot topic issues in the Congress, displaying a deep knowledge of the details, while also touting successes in the first year of the Trump administration.

Top of his list for success was the economic energy unleashed by reducing regulations, an achievement he claimed partial credit for as a policy goal he stressed directly in meetings with the president. Smith checked off changes to specific regulations, which had previously hampered farms and small businesses.

Another success cited by Smith was the tax cuts and jobs act, which the young congressman helped craft as one of the 24 members on the House Budget Committee. Smith pointed to the renewed economic confidence in the country, and the number of big corporations who have already passed on tax savings in the form of bonuses to employees, including AT&T and Wal Mart. "Wal Mart is the biggest employer in my district with 7,000 employees in Southeast Missouri, and they're getting a bonus, not because the government said so, but because of the positive impact of the legislation," Smith said. Most of his emphasis, though, was on explaining the legislation's impact on middle- and low-income working families: "A family of four making $55,000 or less will not pay a penny in federal tax" thanks to the legislation, Smith told the board.

Smith identified that some people, especially with expensive homes who live in high-tax states like New York and California, may pay more due to the elimination of tax loopholes, but "the standard deduction is most important to people in this district," and that deduction doubled from $12,000 to $24,000, Smith said.

Smith indicated he was familiar with the criticism of the tax plan that it would put a dent in government revenue, but he takes a different perspective: "I think it's already been a huge driver for the economy." He believes the increased economic activity because of the cuts will more than offset the lower rates over time. "I'm betting on the American economy," Smith said.

Elimination of the health care individual mandate was another positive development, Smith said, while the virtual elimination of ISIS in Iraq and Syria was perhaps the most underappreciated achievement. Smith identified welfare reform, trade and infrastructure as being three of the big issues going forward with immigration and fixing the budget process as being two thorny issues still in process -- and no clear resolution in sight.

Smith is quickly moving up the leadership ladder in the House, serving on both the powerful Ways and Means committee and the House Budget Committee. He seems to have a clear channel to President Trump -- and the trust of both House leadership and the White House. He has worked hard to foster relationships with Democrats in Congress.

With a large number of Republican Congressmen announcing plans not to run for re-election in 2018 -- due to a combination of factors, including term limits as a committee chair, highly competitive districts and/or the fear of an anti-Trump wave in mid-term elections -- Smith's climb is virtually guaranteed to continue.

He's certainly working hard, keeping his ear close to the ground to understand constituent needs, while seeking to develop strong relationships in Washington so those needs can be addressed. The 8th District hasn't seen anyone like him in a while. That's not a criticism of prior representatives. Smith just doesn't seem to rest.

Anyone who believes that education is a key to the future economy has to be concerned about Missouri Gov. Eric Greiten's plan for more budget cuts in higher education. According to a story by Mark Bliss in Monday's Southeast Missourian, Greiten's proposed budget reduces state funding for Missouri's colleges and universities by $92 million from last year's budgeted amount. Such a cut could be devastating to Southeast Missouri State University, which not only helps transform the future prospects of its students, but also serves as an economic engine for the region.

Southeast Missourian readers know that the Cape Girardeau university has been proactive in finding budget savings, including reorganizing its departments, eliminating deans and chairs, and cutting administrative costs. But cutting too much too fast will only cripple Missouri's prospects -- and Southeast Missouri's potential -- for the future.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian.