The title quote is generally attributed to either Mark Twain or Gideon J. Tucker. As a native Missourian, I’ll go with Mark Twain. But in either case, the quote is as appropriate today as it was when it was first made. It’s especially apropos during this last week of the state legislative session.
The last two weeks of session are filled with the most pressure and leverage. The first week of May contains the drama of passing the state budget. This was certainly true as the Senate saw a 14-hour filibuster regarding the spending of federal stimulus money (How Much Borrowed Chinese $$$ Will We Spend?). The ultimate resolution was the reduction of $14 million of federal stimulus money.
This doesn’t sound like a lot and in the total budget picture it isn’t. However, the discussion of the principles that took place during the debate about out-of-control spending and fundamental principles was very good. It remains to be seen what, if any, long-lasting impact the debate will have in future sessions. The filibuster did demonstrate that there are not enough fiscal conservatives in the Missouri Senate.
The last week of session is one of the most dangerous of the entire legislative session. It should be called the “Week of the Omnibus Bill.”
There are a number of omnibus bills that will undoubtedly be the focus of most of the action this week. Omnibus bills are packages of bills that haven’t made it through the process on their own that are cobbled onto other bills that haven’t made it on their own. This is supposed to enhance their chance of passage by giving everyone something good to vote for and swallow some “bad” along with it. Now that’s a very long explanation, but it is representative of an omnibus bill. The scary thing about this approach is it often works!
House Bill (HB) 116 is a good example – or bad depending on your point of view – of an omnibus bill. It started out as a three-page bill that “authorizes an amnesty from the assessment or payment of all penalties, additions to tax, and interest on delinquencies of unpaid taxes administered by the Department of Revenue which occurred on or prior to December 31, 2010.” This is a common practice every few years that usually results in collection of taxes that people have gotten behind in paying or otherwise haven’t paid.
HB116 was combined with HB316, which added more provisions about the collection of state money to include allowing state agencies to turn over people who owe the state money to a collection agency. The bill came out of committee as an 18-page bill. An amendment was added to the bill on the House floor during perfection making the bill 21 pages. That’s a 600 percent increase from the original bill. But it gets better!
The Senate took HB116 and added lots of “good ideas.” For example, tax credit reform was added to the bill. Now that is a good idea but when you look at some of the trading items that “had” to go into the bill in order to get tax credit reform, it really brings into question whether it is a worthwhile trade.
The supporters of tax credit reform point to the savings to the state of over a billion dollars over the next 10 years. They even have a spreadsheet to prove it! The problem is, I’ve seen those kind of spreadsheets before. I am familiar with the promises of such spreadsheets and also with the actual results. Let’s just say it is a rare occasion when the promises of the spreadsheets ever become reality.
When the Senate was done “improving” the 21-page bill it received from the House and sent it back, the bill was 330 pages long. If you are keeping track, that is almost an 11,000% increase in page count.
The House hasn’t taken any action on HB116, and it is not likely to take it up as passed by the Senate. It could happen as a last resort, but it does not appear to be the primary approach preferred by the House. House member have a “better idea.”
Last week, the House Rules committee sent Senate Bill (SB) 100 back to the House committee of origin so that it could be further amended to add more economic development items and other omnibus items to the bill. It appears that this bill may be the House’s answer to the Senate action on HB116. Another bill that could become the vehicle of choice might be SB117. We will keep you posted.
As bad as this all sounds, it used to be worse! There was a time when the House could do as the Senate does and drop a House substitute on desks. House substitutes like Senate substitutes have had no hearings or public input. Legislators seldom have seen the substitutes prior to hitting their desks and, as in the case of the Senate Substitute for HB116, they can be quite lengthy.
As part of the new majority in the 92nd General Assembly I was part of the leadership team that eliminated House substitutes. This action eliminated last-minute surprises in the House but did not eliminate omnibus bills. However, at least an omnibus that originates in the House has to go through the committee process. The Senate should consider the same procedure.