Local state legislators say Republican control of state government has resulted in legislation this year that they hope will boost the state’s economy – and they promise more in 2018.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” said State Sen. Robert Onder [R-District 2] during a recent legislative breakfast.
Onder and other members of St. Charles County’s legislative delegation gave a briefing on the last legislative session and 2018 legislative priorities at a breakfast, co-sponsored by the Greater St. Charles County Chamber of Commerce and the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce and Industries, at Whitmoor Country Club.
“We have seen the most pro-business legislative session in 2017, really ever in the state of Missouri,” Onder said. “We really have seen enormous gains for the job creators in our state.”
Onder said those accomplishments include tort and labor reform measures, legislation allowing Uber and Lyft to provide ride-sharing transportation in the county, measures encouraging technical education and more. But legislators also pointed to challenges facing them in the 2018 legislative session, including finding more money for transportation improvements and dealing with issues such as tax credits that are reducing tax revenue.
State Sen. Bill Eigel [R-District 23] discussed the need for the state to increase its population, while State Rep. Kathie Conway [R-District 104] said county residents are seeing their taxes going to support special funds and roads repairs, and maintenance in out-of-state counties.
Onder and Eigel said right-to-work legislation signed into law by Gov. Eric Greitens will help Missouri compete for jobs in neighboring states that already have similar legislation. “Right to Work is one of many things we did this session to make Missouri more business-friendly and give Missourians the job and economic opportunities that they deserve,” Onder said.
Changes in workers’ compensation and employment discrimination rules will clarify laws, they said, allowing transportation alternatives such as Uber to create as many as 10,000 jobs.
Legislators said next year’s challenges aren’t new. But legislation may help encourage more economic activity that may address ongoing statewide issues.
“Our population right now is pretty static,” Eigel said. “We’re not growing. If you don’t have population growth, things become very difficult from an economic perspective.” More people can mean new ideas, more investment capital, new jobs and more entrepreneurship.
“To me, a better tomorrow looks like a Missouri that is growing in terms of population, just like the very economically successful states of Texas, Tennessee, Florida and Washington, and identifying what those states are doing,” Eigel said.
Republican legislative and executive control of state government means legislation will be pursued to attract people and business to Missouri, he said.
“We [St. Charles County] are a microcosm of what the whole state should look like,” Eigel said. “We have a growing population, we have one of the fastest growing cities [Wentzville] in the whole state. Because of that, look at our real estate market, look at our job market. Everything is going well. We have more money going into our schools. If we didn’t have the population growth we’ve had, a lot of things would be going a lot different,” he added.
A major issue facing state lawmakers will involve finding more transportation dollars to fix existing roads and bridges and build new ones. Both Republicans and Democrats have discussed increasing the state’s gasoline tax, a primary source of funding for the Missouri Department of Transportation [MoDOT] and one that allows the agency to tap into matching federal funding. Most legislators at the meeting were cool toward any tax increase.
A MoDOT priority is rebuilding Interstate 70 across the middle of the state, which may cost billions of dollars that now don’t exist. Yet Eigel said, “I have a real problem identifying the need to actually raise anyone’s taxes.”
Toll roads also haven’t found many proponents. “I’ve yet to meet one of my constituents who has come to me and said, ‘I want to see a toll road,’” he said.
Eigel said he favors the state dedicating about $2 billion annually – about 2.5 percent of general revenue funding – for 10 years to provide enough to obtain matching federal dollars to build a four-lane I-70 from Independence to Wentzville. Another $500 million could be used to rebuild and repair lettered routes throughout the state, he added.
Eigel is a member of a transportation committee that is expected to review funding options for MoDOT and make recommendations to Greitens.