COLUMBIA — Now that the perpetrators have fled the scene and enough time has elapsed to provide some perspective, let’s try to evaluate the five-month calamity that was the 2011 legislative session.
There’s already been a lot of post-session talk, some of it on this page and most of it focusing on what legislators approved when they didn’t stymie themselves with intra-party, inter-chamber gridlock. The benefits of their action accrue mainly to their big-monied big business sponsors.
By contrast, we ordinary citizens can only heave a sigh of relief when we contemplate what the Republicans who dominated both houses didn’t do. They tried and failed to:
- Replace our modestly progressive income tax with a broad-based sales tax that would have shifted the tax burden to the middle and lower economic class and produced even less revenue for starving state services.
- Reverse the remarkable victory the voters gave low-income workers in 2006 by removing the inflation adjustments to the state minimum wage.
- Cripple unions by joining Missouri to the ranks of the right-to-work-for-less states.
- Penalize newcomers from foreign lands by limiting driver license tests to English only.
- Overturn another law passed by statewide referendum and allow Ameren to charge its customers for the costs of applying for a license to build another nuclear power plant.
- Make it more difficult and expensive to buy the most common medicines for colds and allergies by requiring sales by prescription only.
Sometimes, gridlock isn’t such a bad thing.
Disagreement between House and Senate also prevented passage of another huge giveaway to developers, this one in the name of the far-fetched notion of transforming Lambert Airport into a center for cargo coming in from China. That beauty would have been financed in large part by taking away money that now helps thousands of old and poor people pay their rent.
For most of the spring, Gov. Jay Nixon might as well have remained concealed in his turkey blind. He was invisible to the naked eye. Occasionally, however, he emerged. Once he showed off a turkey he’d bagged with his shotgun. Another time, he bagged with his pen a legislative turkey by vetoing a bill that would have weakened enforcement of the law against workplace discrimination.
Perhaps the governor’s finest hour was his “Missouri compromise” that prevented the complete gutting of yet another law we’d passed by referendum. That was the law intended to address the abuses that have led to our long-running reign as puppy mill capital of the country.
The legislature, in thrall as usual to the Farm Bureau, wanted to dismantle the new restrictions. The compromise, announced at the last minute, saves key provisions and actually adds some needed enforcement staff. Most backers of the referendum, it appeared, recognized that this was the best they were going to get.
Gov. Nixon prevented another legislative misstep from bad to worse by first vetoing and then winning modification of a bill to limit lawsuits against the noisome nuisances that have driven most small producers of hogs and chickens from the field. No change in existing law would have been better, but the Factory Farm Bureau wasn’t going to allow that.
Of course, there were a few positives. The most important for Columbia was a reduction in the size of the cut to the university budget. As far as I can tell, we have Sen. Kurt Schaefer to thank. He also did the state a big favor by refusing to go along with the budget-slashing demands of a vociferous band of his colleagues. We’ll have to hope that such statesmanship doesn’t get him read out of the ranks of Republicans.
Anyway, we’ve survived another season in Jeff City. It’s too soon to relax, though. The same cast of characters will be back next January. Hide the silver.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.