State legislators laud budget, road district bills
Prevailing wage repeal on list of future bills being discussed
With the state’s legislative session wrapping up in May, local legislators say key accomplishments this year include the passing of the state budget, which fully funds the Foundation Formula, and the road district consolidation bill.
State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, chairman of the House Budget Committee, said the state’s finances encompassed most of his time at the capitol.
“I’m proud we passed a state budget fully funding the Foundation Formula and restoring the transportation funds cut from the [Gov. Eric Greitens’] budget,” he said. “This is the most balanced budget I think we have ever passed based on our projections. It was aggressive, and we set money aside for unplanned expenses and lagging revenue to a greater extent this year, and I fought hard for that.”
In January, local schools were wary of a proposed $16.5 million cut to school transportation. Cassville in particular was afraid of major cuts, as the district has 25 buses in its fleet and runs 19 daily routes over one of the largest distances in the state.
“As the budget chair, that was a big accomplishment,” Fitzpatrick said.
State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, was a member of the Senate budget committee and conference committees, a position he enjoyed due to his proximity to Fitzpatrick.
“We sat almost right next to each other at the conference table in the committee of five senators and five representatives, and here we only live about three blocks apart,” he said. “I was proud we passed the budget fully funding the Foundation Formula.”
Sater said although the formula funding was a positive, cuts made to get there are ones he wishes did not have to be made.
“We cut college funding by 6-1/2 percent, so many will have to raise tuition to make up that money,” he said. “That includes Crowder here in [Cassville], and every dollar that tuition goes up may cause someone to not be able to take college classes.
“I wish we had spread out the cuts more and would have rather not fully funded the formula and do more for things like higher education and Medicaid.”
Another bill largely affecting Barry County was one Fitzpatrick and Sater worked on together, which is a provision to allow special road districts to voluntarily consolidate. Barry County has 25 special road districts, the most of any county in the state.
“We worked on that with the Barry County Commission last year and this year, and we put it on as an amendment and it made it to the governor’s desk,” Fitzpatrick said.
In other accomplishments, Fitzpatrick cited a bill allowing LLC owners to exempt themselves from workers compensation coverage, right-to-work legislation, a transportation bill allowing Uber and Lyft to operate in the state and tort reforms to help small businesses.
Sater said the work in the Senate was a team effort, and things like right-to-work and tort reform were key accomplishments.
“Right-to-work is very important for the freedom of workers, to join or not join a union if they feel it will help them or not,” he said. “With tort reform, there were too many employees claiming frivolous lawsuits.”
On the last day of the session this year, a bill also was passed that prevented municipalities from setting a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage.
“This was mainly in St. Louis and Kansas City,” he said. “By doing that, it keeps business owners from not having to compete at a disadvantage when they are inside city lines.”
Looking forward, Fitzpatrick said he already has a set of goals for the next legislative session.
“Something I started working on in my first year in the legislature and now now has a change to get done, as it was ready on the Senate floor, was a bill to repeal prevailing wage,” he said. “This is a big deal for schools, because they have to pay an inflated rate to contractors in the rural parts of the state. I think over the next year or two, that will get done.”
Sater said a prevailing wage repeal is one of his top priorities, and something he wish the legislature had done this year.
“Prevailing wage has a big economic impact for local schools, municipalities and fire districts,” he said. “Small maintenance projects are hard to bid out, because contractors mainly go for big jobs. Using the prevailing wage in Kansas City for a project in downtown Cassville just doesn’t make sense.”
Sater said he’s also working on filing a bill that would allow the state to get a federal block grant for Medicaid.
“We were waiting to see what [President Donald Trump’s] administration would do, and to see how Gov. Greitens felt about it. the governor has no problem with applying for a block grant, which would allow us to set up our own Medicaid.”
Sater said about 60 percent of the state’s Medicaid funding comes from federal dollars, and the remaining 40 percent is funded by the state. He said Medicaid costs costs have been rising at a pace of 5-10 percent annually.
“A block grant would allow us to take the federal money we already get and us it to form the Medicaid program to best fit Missouri,” Sater said. “The Department of Social Services will also have to apply for a waiver to the Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services.”