WILSON: Missouri Senate eyeing budget, taxes, elections

Posted: Apr. 25, 2014 1:22 pm Updated: Jul. 18, 2014 3:15 pm

The Missouri Senate will be a busy place this week as members debate the budget, consider whether voters can decide a tax issue and determine when primary elections will be held.

The state budget bills will come up for review on Monday, and school administrators will be watching.

One Senate plan would add $115 million to Missouri's $3.1 billion in general aid for schools. The legislation also has a provision that would allow state aid to increase up to $278 million, but only if Gov. Jay Nixon's higher state revenue projections are met.

Higher education would get a 5 percent increase under a budget proposal. Students scoring in the top 3 percent on college admission scores could get as much as $3,000 through an increased Bright Flight Scholarship program. Students scoring in the top 4 or 5 percent could qualify for as much as $1,000.

Undocumented foreign students would pay higher tuition under a provision that would strip them of in-state status, no matter how long they've lived in the state.

On Tuesday the Senate will switch to debate on a proposal that would ask voters whether to impose a 1-cent sales tax, with proceeds going to transportation.

Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, has pledged to fight the bill. He mounted a filibuster last year that stalled a similar plan on the last day of the legislative session.

Lamping told The Associated Press it is "illogical" for lawmakers to cut taxes and then ask voters to impose higher taxes. He opposes higher taxes, but said it would be appropriate to designate existing taxes for transportation.

Other members of the Senate hope Lamping will allow Missouri voters to decide the tax issue in November. It's hard to argue with that logic, or to vote against giving voters the power to choose.

Missouri Department of Transportation Director Dave Nichols told a Senate panel recently the transportation budget has dropped to about half the size it was a few years ago. MoDOT cut its staff, sold some property and has streamlined operations in order to manage under the tighter budget. New construction projects are only being taken on under emergency circumstances. Road crews are focusing on maintenance.

If approved, the sales tax would generate about $800 million per year and would expire after 10 years.

Missouri's August primary system also could be a thing of the past if the state Senate approves legislation the House passed by a narrow margin last week.

Primaries would be moved to June for statewide offices, the Legislature and congressional seats under the bill that passed 84-67 in the Missouri House. Eighty-two votes were needed for passage.

Proponents of the change say the August primary gives candidates little time to raise money and campaign before November's General Election. Under the proposal, the primary could be held the third full week of June, giving candidates an extra six or seven weeks of campaigning.

Opponents worry that primary campaigns would crowd into legislative sessions, which end in May.