JEFFERSON CITY — It was the Wednesday after the first Monday in January, and the Missouri Capitol Building was abuzz with the sound of legislators back at work and political discussions under way.
With the start of the Missouri General Assembly, Boone County legislators have plans for 2012. The state's budget tops the priority list of most of the delegation.
In support of higher education, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, wants to implement capital improvement bonds to provide more funding to colleges throughout the state.
Kelly will also support legislation that would give the nonvoting student curator a vote on the UM System Board of Curators.
State Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said that she will be supporting the Main Street Fairness Act, which has been co-sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, in the U.S. Senate. It would allow states to impose the state sales tax on Internet purchases, generating an estimated $23 billion on the national level that now goes uncollected.
She will also be fighting to reduce interest rates on payday loans, which now have an average interest rate of 450 percent. Still hopes to propose legislation that would reduce the rate to 36 percent, the rate recommended by the FDIC.
She also hopes to raise the cigarette tax in Missouri, which would result in a 70-cent increase. Another goal is to put a cap on campaign contributions to limit the "influence of the wealthy special interest."
Payday loan interest reform and the increase in cigarette taxes are issues Still has been pushing for the last couple of years.
State Rep. Paul Quinn, D-Monroe City, whose district includes a section of northern Boone County, is focusing on the state budget.
He sees the possibility of dipping into the state's Rainy Day Fund because the state budget is projected to fall $450 million to $500 million short. He will be looking at the overall financial situation of the state of Missouri, specifically where to make the cuts.
Quinn said he would also support looking into the possibility of changing the current school funding formula, which he said leads to bigger schools getting more money and hurts smaller schools.
He also said he would support Still's payday loan legislation.
"Maybe it'll be a better year," said State Rep. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico. Cauthorn, like most Missouri legislators, said he would focus on the state budget.
He said he would also work to increase the punishments for thefts of gasoline and scrap metal from farms. Cauthorn said he wants the punishment for gas theft to be the same as for a theft from a filling station, which includes losing one's driver's license for a year.
Cauthorn will also back legislation that would support veterans through a one-eighth percent sales tax.
He also wants to work toward getting the Missouri Blue Book back in print this year. The book was taken out of print as a cost-cutting measure.
State Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said he will focus on protecting education funding, both for Columbia Public Schools and for MU. He considers this to be the biggest issue in the state right now, calling it "high risk."
Webber will also be backing legislation that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
He also said that he will be working to get rid of the yellow legislative license plates because they are “ridiculous.”
State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will be working mostly on the state budget.
Aside from his committee work, Schaefer hopes to increase funding for both K-12 and higher education. He said the current formula needs to be tweaked because it hasn't been funded the way it was intended since 2008.
Schaefer has also pre-filed legislation to extend the food pantry tax credit.