Sen. Gary Romine’s Capitol Update: Picking Up Where We Left Off

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The first Senate bills have now been debated and committee work continues to move at a fast and furious pace. Two of the measures I filed this session were among those heard in committee this week, and both are a continuation of my efforts from last year.

On Tuesday, I presented Senate Bill 688, establishing a permanent Joint Committee on Public Assistance. Missouri’s various public assistance programs consume roughly 37 percent, or $9.5 billion, of our state budget. Now make no mistake, $9.5 billion is an enormous amount of money, but it’s not necessarily the amount that gives me pause. Rather, it’s the fact that the Legislature must rely almost entirely on the state departments administering these programs to tell us how much money they need. We don’t have an independent source of information to help guide us in our decision-making.

If passed, SB 688 would help remedy this lack of oversight by allowing Missouri lawmakers to conduct a more in-depth analysis of our public assistance programs by studying their efficacy, determining what resources are needed to continue and improve them, and making recommendations to the General Assembly on ways to reduce dependency and promote self-sufficiency among public assistance recipients.

On Wednesday, I presented Senate Bill 620, my career and technical education (CTE) bill, to the Senate Education Committee, of which I’m vice-chairman. This bill requires the Missouri State Board of Education to establish minimum graduation requirements for a CTE certificate that a student can earn in addition to their high school diploma. The measure also changes the composition of the Career and Technical Education Advisory Council so the commissioner of education, not the governor, appoints the council’s eleven members and expands the council to include two senators and two representatives.

As a graduate and former teacher of CTE, I have long understood its value in preparing students for life after high school. A student with a CTE certificate is a student with options. They graduate high school with the basic skills to enter the workforce or a technical school and have the option of moving on to a two- or four-year college or university. It’s also worth mentioning that CTE students have a 90 percent graduation rate compared to the national average of 75 percent. As I’ve said before, that type of success cannot be ignored; it must be encouraged. My goal is to see that 2016 is the year we take CTE to the next level in Missouri.

Transportation Update

I think we can all agree — having a safe and reliable transportation network that connects us to each other and Missouri goods and businesses to neighboring towns, states and beyond is a necessity, not an option. And yet, year after year, we have been unable to agree on a funding policy that will provide for both our immediate and future needs.

The last time the Legislature voted to raise the gas tax was in 1992, with the current tax rate of 17 cents per gallon taking effect in 1996. For 20 years, the rate has remained the same. Unfortunately, what was 17 cents of purchasing power in 1996 is only 8 cents today. Meanwhile, the cost of labor and concrete or asphalt have only continued to rise.

We have the 7th largest transportation system in the nation, but rank 47th in terms of funding per mile. The 34,000 miles of roads and 10,400 bridges that make up our transportation infrastructure are deteriorating, and we do not have the money to repair or maintain them.

This week, the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee, on which I sit, voted 6-0 to advance Senate Bill 623 to the floor for debate. Very simply, SB 623 raises the motor fuel tax by 1.5 cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 3.5 cents per gallon, beginning Oct. 1, 2016. While SB 623 isn’t a permanent solution, it will provide an immediate injection of approximately $57 million in state funding and $26 million in city and county funding.

The tax increase we’re talking about is a measured step that members from the trucking industry, agricultural and business communities, and our public safety departments all support. In addition, it would only cost the average citizen an extra $7 to $10 in gas per year. Compare that to the hundreds of dollars it would cost to realign the front end of your car after hitting a pothole, and there’s no contest.

The bottom line is this: we all use our roads and bridges. We all contribute to their wear and tear. Our parents and grandparents understood the value of investing in our state and were willing to do so; the time has come for us to follow in their footsteps. As a matter that affects each and every one of us, I want to encourage residents of the 3rd Senate District to reach out to my office and voice your support, questions and concerns.

Finally, I was pleased to welcome Courtney Mouser with Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence and Ken Waller, the County Executive for Jefferson County.

Contact Me

I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-4008. You may write me at Gary Romine, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101; or email me at; or