Columbia legislators, community leaders discuss legislative priorities

Friday, January 10, 2014 | 6:47 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Differences among Columbia legislators on Medicaid expansion were on display Friday at a legislative  forum that attracted more than 200 business, education and political leaders.

Only two days after the legislative session began, local lawmakers outlined top state issues during the Missouri Legislative Forecast Breakfast at MU's Reynolds Alumni Center.

Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly predicted there would be "a huge divide" on what he said was the most important issue facing the General Assembly: Medicaid expansion. He noted that many local Chambers of Commerce across the state were in support of the measure because of the potential economic benefits.

Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer, however, said the legislature will be challenged by "a fiscal reality." Schaefer said he worried about how long-term uncertainty regarding Medicaid expansion would affect Missouri's budget.

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Schaefer said he thought the only additional source of state Medicaid funding would be from redirecting education funding.

After nearly an hour of speeches, the legislators took questions from the audience, including one about what Missouri would look like in five years.

Kelly acknowledged the problems of Missouri's rural economy and said that even if new jobs are created, people need better schools.

The Republican speakers bristled at the memory of Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of House Bill 253, the tax-cut bill they said would have made Missouri a better business environment. Rep. Caleb Jones said that as a small-business owner, it was tough to see the bill fail.

"We got played," Schaefer said, referring to the legislature's recent efforts to attract Boeing to move to the state to construct the new 777X airplane. Missouri's approach toward growing the economy is too piecemeal, he said, stressing the need to create a more attractive business environment.

At the end of his speech, Schaefer praised Kelly's public service. Kelly, who served as representative from 1982 to 1992 and has been re-elected since 2008, plans to retire at the end of this term.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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