Imagine this. You are just returning home from some quality time in a tropical paradise relaxed and may be inclined to be in a “ainokea” mood. After all, you just took a big shellacking at the polls on November 2 and how could things at home possibly be worse? Welcome back. The new Congress is sworn in tomorrow.
The formal seating of the new Congress in Washington and huge new majorities in Jefferson City takes place on Wednesday, January 5, 2011. The eyes of conservatives and liberal/progressives will be watching those given the reins in the U.S. House and to the increased numbers in the U.S. Senate and Missouri legislature to see if they just talk a good game or whether the latest “hope and change” will be as bad as the last one.
Here in Missouri, Republicans in both the Senate and House have historic majorities. While this may seem to be a slam dunk for getting things done, it isn’t.
The Senate will still wrestle with allowing endless debate by Republicans and Democrats, supposedly respecting the “traditions” of the Senate. However, if one looks at the real traditions of the Senate, you would find that the current filibusters do not follow tradition. There does come a time when tradition must and should give way to governing. After all, the people elected Missouri Senators to govern not just to be collegial.
The Missouri House Republicans have 106 of 163 members. This also sounds like a slam dunk, and without the filibuster, what’s to stop anything they want to do? But with so many members, there will undoubtedly be those who don’t agree with the approach or they will want something in return. If history with such a large freshman class is an indicator, the House leadership will need to do as much of the heavy lifting in the first year as possible before the newbies really start worrying about getting re-elected.
The issues most written about so far are the budget and re-districting. These will undoubtedly consume more time than the public will be aware of. Most of the work is done in committees and meetings that aren’t very glamorous. However, there other things that need to be addressed that will also have an impact on both of these issues.
Tax reform, specifically the Missouri Jobs and Prosperity Act (MJPA) should be passed and presented to voters of the state. The MJPA is a well-researched and workable solution to provide a more stable revenue source for the state. It phases out the current income tax system and replaces it with a consumer driven sales tax. The ups and downs that come with recessions and economic downturns will be far less significant and impactful than they are now with the severe dependence on income tax collections. The baseline beginning for this should be Senate Substitute #3 for Senate Joint Resolution 29 from the 2010 session.
The danger is that while the legislative process is good for vetting issues, it also is rife with political compromises. This, in and of itself is not bad. It is bad when those political compromises don’t benefit constituents as much as special interests.
Education reform is also necessary. For too long, the teachers’ unions, not to be confused with actual teachers, and school educrats have prevented meaningful education reform. They say they are the experts, and if we just listen to them and spend more money all will be well.
Educrats and teachers’ unions have driven most of the state education policy in the past and the state spends more money than ever on public schools, yet we see no advancement in learning or achievement. Studies have shown that more money does not make a difference in the educational outcomes if the basics are not in place. Missouri’s education policy needs to really be focused on the students and not the adults who are using the children to achieve their own objectives.
The 2011 legislative session will be one full of opportunities to make Missouri a more attractive and prosperous place to live, work and raise families. Will the legislature and governor take advantage of those opportunities?