An Eventful Week
We had an incredibly eventful week this past week in the Missouri Senate as we finalized the operating budget for the 2023 fiscal year and advanced a couple of truly important pieces of legislation. Next year’s budget fully funds the school foundation formula, which pays for K-12 education in Missouri. Even more exciting is the fact we increased starting pay for school teachers, and funded the state’s share of school transportation costs for the first time in decades. Teacher pay is still too low, in my opinion, but this year’s budget definitely brings improvement. The transportation funding increase will be a huge benefit for rural school districts, which devote so many resources to simply getting children to school and back home safely.
Unlike most years, when legislative budget planners struggle to stretch available resources to meet all the varied demands on state government, this year the challenge was how best to allocate literally billions of additional dollars that flowed into Missouri from federal economic relief and infrastructure investment programs. With so much cash on hand, we were able to fund worthwhile projects throughout the state, including many in the 27th Senatorial District. I’ll provide more information on some of these local appropriations once we’ve had more opportunity to review the numbers. The big news for tax payers is next year’s budget includes tax credits for every Missourian earning less than $150,000 per year. Individual taxpayers will be allowed to deduct up to $500 off of next year’s state income tax bill, thanks to budget legislation approved by the Legislature this week. Married couples with combined incomes under $300,000 could qualify for a tax credit of up to $1,000.
On the policy front, I was extremely pleased the Senate was finally able to pass legislation reining in eminent domain abuses by private developers. Farm groups have been up in arms in recent years over a proposed high-voltage electric transmission line across northern Missouri. The developer, a private, out-of-state electricity wholesaler is attempting to secure rights of way for the power line, which will carry electricity generated in Kansas to customers in Indiana. When some landowners along the path declined to sell access to their property, the company sought permission to condemn the remaining easements by force. I believe this is wrong. I am a strong supporter of property rights and don’t think for-profit developers should be able to take other people’s property for their own personal gain. The legislation we approved this week, House Bill 2005, won’t prevent this particular power line from going forward, but it will raise the cost of similar projects in the future. Hopefully, this will discourage other developers from trying to pry access away from unwilling landowners.
The most exciting legislation to come out of the Senate this week, in my opinion, was House Bill 1878. A comprehensive package of election integrity reforms, this legislation will require voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot, and will eliminate electronic voting machines in Missouri. Once the bill is enacted, voting will only be allowed with hand-marked paper ballots — the gold standard of election security. House Bill 1878 also includes provisions relating to cyber security and audits of election results and prohibits ballot drop boxes and ballot “harvesting” of absentee ballots, both practices associated with disputed election outcomes in other states.
This week is all that remains before the end of the 2022 legislative session. There’s a lot of important issues still before us, and we have our work cut out for us if we’re going to get these passed and onto the governor’s desk before the last gavel falls on May 13.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2459. You may write me at Holly Thompson Rehder, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, Rm 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101, send an email to Holly.Rehder@senate.mo.gov or visit www.senate.mo.gov/Rehder.