Guest Column: Standing Up and Speaking Out
Lee’s Summit (From the Office of Representative Will Kraus: MO 48th District) – As a Representative who believes in open government, I want to keep readers informed on what bills we passed in the House, what I voted for and why. But sometimes it is the legislation not passed or the “no” votes that tell the story. This update is about the other side of being in Jefferson City – where standing up for the people meant standing up against both leadership in the House and special interests and voting no.
Fee Increase on Utility Bills Defeated
As it was first debated in the House, SB 791 created new revenue for the state by placing a fee on your utility bill. Once I discovered this, I was on a path to kill this legislation and argued against the fee.
I had made my opposition to this fee increase known both in committee and to my colleagues. Therefore, it was tough when leadership did not recognize me to speak during the crux of the debate on the floor. I had to wait until the discussion of the date of effectiveness of the legislation to oppose the increase.
The good news is that the fee was eventually removed from the bill that passed. I was happy to be able to stand up for consumers, not special interests. We must keep our utility rates low and our state competitive with other states.
Funding for Education
With five family members who have taught in Missouri schools, I recognize the critical importance of education and the work that teachers do in our classrooms. As such, I was particularly concerned with the passage of HB 2014, which penalized formula schools such as those in Blue Springs and Lee’s Summit by denying them full funding, while providing full funding for hold harmless schools. When this bill was first brought up in the House on March 18, I was disappointed when leadership stopped debate through a procedural move. Legislators were then sent home at 10:25 a.m. on a Thursday when we should have been discussing the impact that cutting back funding would have on our schools.
After HB 2014 was sent to and passed by the Senate, it was taken up by the House again on April 8 for final passage. I was again ready to keep the discussion alive with my opposition to this bill. Instead, it was pushed through by a series of motions. These actions by the House were not in the best interests of schools in Eastern Jackson County. I voted no on HB 2014.
Each year, we have the responsibility to approve a budget for the state of Missouri that is then sent to the Governor for signature. I was most disappointed in the proposed $23.3 billion budget for next year – to the extent that I voted against it. I was happy to see that State Senator Matt Bartle also voted against the budget.
Two principles guided my votes. One, fiscal responsibility is of utmost importance to create an efficient and sustainable government and to protect the long-term welfare of our state. We must balance our budget, not by raising taxes on citizens already beaten up by a poor economy, but by controlling expenditures. I was pleased that we met our pledge of “No new taxes,” but I am concerned that the budget relies on $900 million of one-time federal stimulus money. That’s neither wise planning nor careful stewardship of your taxpayer dollars.
Second, quality education should always be a top priority. The future of our state rests with the abilities and accomplishments of our children, and education is the foundation upon which our children’s future is built. The legislature ended up flattening the education budget for next year, meaning that over $100 million of expected revenue to our schools will not materialize. School districts have already announced plans to curb costs through such measures as reducing staff, changing schedules, combining class-rooms, and freezing salaries. I would have preferred a budget that reined in the use of tax credits instead of reducing education funding.
Last Thursday, Gov. Nixon signed off on the budget after cutting nearly $300 million to keep it in balance. Those cuts hit public school busing, college scholarships, state tax credits, mental health services, and in-home car providers for the disabled.
State Representative Will Kraus can be reached at 816 246 5023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.