Missouri voters could decide on a sales tax for transportation this fall, but the path to the ballot remains unclear.
State legislators gave an update on several issues at Friday’s Grain Valley Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
A sales tax proposal for the ballot died in the General Assembly last year, as have previous suggestions for toll roads, but Missouri Department of Transportation officials say funding will soon begin to run short of needs.
“For the money ... for the money they have, they’re doing a real job,” state Rep. Donna Pfautsch, R-Harrisonville, said regarding MoDOT.
State Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, said if the General Assembly doesn’t move to put the issue on the November ballot, advocates might try a statewide initiative petition instead. However, Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, said if legislators pass the issue, they can set the ballot language, such as directing a portion of any sales tax fund to cities and counties.
The legislature adjourns in seven weeks, and it’s unclear where that issue will go, the lawmakers said.
“It’s still kind of all out there, but it’s all over the place,” Lauer said.
Legislators also touched on other issues:
• Lauer discussed the complexities of health care – “There are just so many pieces to this puzzle,” she said – even as the Missouri House debates legislation to change and expand the Medicaid program, an issue slow to gain momentum in the Republican-controlled legislature.
She said there are people in need, and that needs to be taken into account.
“I know everybody has an emotional reaction on whether we should expand Medicaid, but there are facts out there,” she said.
• Legislators continue to discuss changes in the school transfer law. The Senate passed a bill that would send students in unaccredited districts to solidly performing schools within that district. If those seats are full, students could go to neighboring districts, and if those seats are full, they could go to private – but not religious – schools with public funds.
Kraus was among a handful of senators who voted against the bill, though he said he wants it to move ahead and, he said he hopes, be improved in the House.
The Senate bill would grant provisional state accreditation to school districts scoring at 55 percent – meaning the transfer law wouldn’t be triggered for the Kansas City School District. But that would leave room for more individual failing schools within a district.
“My fear is that there would be buildings that wouldn’t be accredited for decades,” he said.
• Pfautsch said she and Lauer have a bill to expand school districts’ bonding capacity – greatly helpful for a rapidly growing district like Grain Valley’s – but it is not gaining ground in the legislature.
• Kraus again favors changes in the eligibility rules for unemployment benefits. In some cases, he said, an employer can fire a worker for cause – even something that sends the worker to jail – but still have to pay for jobless benefits for that person.
“I think we need to change that law,” he said.
• With Cerner planning to add 14,000 jobs in the coming years at the site of the old Bannister Mall, worker education and training is important, Lauer said.
“We really want to do everything we can to get our people ready for that,” she said.