Give Liberty a Chance!

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies…

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgement of faith in God and His works.

- Frederic Bastiat, The Law, 1850

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

House Budget Action

The Missouri House sent its budget the Senate this week granting approval to a $22.8 billion budget, a 1.8% increase in total appropriations over the existing state budget. This budget once again reflects the top priorities of the Missouri House, by increasing investments in Missouri’s schools, working families, and senior citizens as well as a continued commitment to provide health care to the most vulnerable Missouri citizens.

States across the country continue to face budget shortfalls on an unprecedented scale. Due to our past decisions Missouri has one of the lowest shortfalls in the country. Many states are seeing double-digit general revenue shortfalls which are leading to deep cuts in education funding, massive spending reductions in public safety operations and correctional facilities and, according to the Wall Street Journal, over half of the states are cutting Medicaid eligibility.

Missouri taxpayers should be relieved to know that this budget does not use federal dependency monies to create or expand programs that will undoubtedly be unsustainable in the future. Much like working families today, tough decisions had to be made in order to balance decreasing revenues and spending priorities. These priorities include:

  • Increased funding for elementary and secondary education by fully funding the fourth year of the foundation formula phase-in, an increase of $63 million.
  • Over $410 million in federally directed funding for Title I, the Individuals with Disabilities Act and school based technology.
  • Kept higher education institutions at their FY 2009 funding levels, guaranteeing no tuition increases for college students and working families.
  • An increase of over $235 million for the MO Healthnet program. This money will continue to fund access to healthcare for the neediest Missourians.

In these uncertain economic times we must stick to our fiscally responsible philosophy and do the right thing for the people of the State of Missouri.

In an unbelievable display of contempt for our First and Second Amendment rights, a shocking report from the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC) was made public last week. The report is a clear alarm that our Liberty and basic rights are now being bullied by our state government through the Department of Public Safety.

As part of the Department of Public Safety's intelligence gathering and dissemination of their analysis to law enforcement agencies, the MIAC released a report with instructions on how to identify members of the modern militia movement who may be considered domestic terrorists. The report, printed on state letterhead, blatantly posits that those Missouri citizens who support smaller government, Second Amendment rights, those who are pro-life, or those who voted for Ron Paul, Bob Barr, or Chuck Baldwin in the November 2008 election of being possible threats to our society. This means, if you drive down the street with a pro-life, pro-gun, or pro-third party candidate sticker on your car, you may be considered for criminal profiling by Missouri’s public safety officials and other citizens who may not believe the way you do.

We live in a Nation founded in Liberty; the freedom of speech, the freedom to have our own opinions and voice those opinions, and the freedom of religion. We should not be fearful that our beliefs regarding abortion (pro or against), the size and role of government, or other social issues should separate us into terrorist categories.

Unfortunately, the Governor outwardly defends this practice stating, “Getting information, especially public information, out of our fusion center out to local law enforcement agencies is what we do every day and what we’re going to continue to do. Any way they take that information and can analyze what the threat levels are is important to make sure the public stays safe.”

This week, Lieutenant Governor Kinder called for the Director of Public Safety, John Britt, to take administrative leave pending an investigation into this despicable political profiling done by MIAC. We can only hope Director Britt will follow his call. The Missouri House also restricted funding for the MIAC to prohibit the agency from engaging in political profiling activities.

Regardless of our economic conditions, we still live in the greatest country in the world. It is a privilege to be a U.S. citizen and to freely exercise our Liberty backed by the Bill of Rights. We are free to have different beliefs, different ideas, and different ways of life; all without fear of persecution. Others in this world are not so lucky.

We should be mindful of Benjamin Rush’s words, “[E]very citizen of a republic ... must watch for the State as if its liberties depended upon his vigilance alone.” We should never compromise the ideals that our Nation was founded upon. I can assure you, the Missouri House will not stand by and watch our constitutional rights be ignored and abused by our state government.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Budget Work Begins

This past week the House Budget Committee began meeting as a whole. Prior to this week the six House appropriations committees had been meeting to review the Governor’s recommendations, the various executive department’s requests, and to begin the process of forming the House version of the state budget. The Budget Committee will now take the recommendations from the appropriations committees and begin formal debate on the state budget. This committee will decide which programs and departments to fund, as well as, which must be cut back to balance the budget.

In these trying economic times, revenues coming into the state are lagging last year’s expected growth. The consensus revenue estimate was set at 1%, or approximately $7.7, billion in general revenue for the next fiscal year.

This year, Missouri is facing a budget shortfall of $542 million which is much less severe than many states in the Union. Fortunately, last year’s budget decisions have yielded a $281 million savings. So, unlike Iowa who is facing $750 million deficit for the next fiscal year or Kansas who is facing a $1 billion deficit or our neighbor to the east, Illinois, who is facing a $9 billion deficit, Missouri is weathering this economic climate with the need to trim our state spending by $261 million.

Although with many difficult, and sometimes controversial decisions, the House is committed to Missouri taxpayers by building a reasonable and responsible budget that will keep our state on a solid financial foundation by eliminating our reliance on hundreds of millions of dollars in one-time revenue sources from the federal dependency package that are intended to forever alter our relationship with the federal government and, once again, force our state government to live within its means without raising taxes.

The House has the following approaches to tackling Missouri’s budget problem at its disposal: tax and spend our way to a balanced budget (this was the 1990’s approach that got us where we are today), spend and then tax our way to a balanced budget (this was attempted during Governor Holden’s term), take all of the money from the federal dependency package to pay for ongoing expenditures with one-time monies setting up our state for revenue shortfalls in future years (this is Governor Nixon’s plan), or don’t spend more than the state expects to take in (this is how our families are expected manage our finances).

The education of our children is imperative to a successful future. The House will meet the phase-in payments for the foundation formula to fund our public elementary and secondary schools. This is an enormous win in the economic times that we live in. While other states are stopping Medicaid reimbursement to doctors and stopping income tax refunds from making back to those who overpaid their taxes, Missouri is keeping its promise to public education.

In order to keep our financial house in order, not every state program will remain unscathed – budget cuts will have to be made. Unlike Congress, we must have a balanced budget. The state of Missouri can’t print money to satisfy unrestrained and politically motivated spending habits.

While some budget cuts are looming, vital services will remain. Missouri is emerging nationally as a fiscal leader. It is imperative that we continue to practice restraint and an eye towards efficiency and productivity in state government. Not all of the decisions made by the House will be popular, but they will be necessary to preserve public education and caring for the most vulnerable among us.

Some wish to sell us on a “champagne budget” - one that offers little sustenance, but makes us feel much better. This plan rejects the status quo of self-denial of our present circumstances and the demands it places on future generations. Unlike Governor Nixon, the Missouri House of Representatives will not burden our children and grandchildren with greater debt simply to satisfy special interests for political gain.