Deficit, redistricting on lawmakers' map for upcoming session
Nevada, Mo. -- Convening Wednesday in Jefferson City, Missouri's 96th General Assembly will quickly be embroiled in the state's $500 million budget deficit and statewide political redistricting, State Sen. David Pearce said Wednesday.
Meeting constituents at Vernon County Courthouse, Pearce said there are so many hot topics that an equally big bugaboo, the right-to-work question, is unlikely to get much attention.
He said legislators will probably cover the deficit by equally cutting state departments and agencies.
The 50-year-old first-term Warrensburg Republican wants to keep his 31st District intact with Bates, Cass, Johnson and Vernon counties, but he said that may be tough in a topsy-turvy year.
"The big issue is the budget," he said. "We'll resist the urge to raise taxes, so where do you find $500 million? It shouldn't be a surprise because we've told folks for years that we'll probably have tight budgets until 2014.
"One thing we have to determine is what our revenues will be. I think we'll project 10 percent growth, but it somewhat depends on how much the feds reimburse for Medicaid."
With state officials projecting a shortfall between $200 million and $900 million, Pearce said legislators "are splitting the difference" to say $500 million, at this point.
Deriving 75 percent of its money from income taxes, the best thing Missouri can do is boost its economy, he said. "It's important to get people back to work with economic development programs designed to attract big and small businesses," said Pearce.
"We passed a bill in the special session last July to keep the Ford plant's 3,700 direct jobs in north Kansas City and retain 10,000 indirect jobs across the state. We must be pro-active to keep the big businesses, but we also need to have a low tax climate and take regulatory burdens off small businesses so they can grow."
With Missouri's recently announced loss of a federal congressional district to a total of eight, Pearce said its seven-percent population growth since 2000 to near 6 million means most state House and Senate districts will get bigger.
"Every district will change some," he said. "Where those lines will be drawn, who knows? Cass County, on the north end of my district, is one of the fastest-growing parts of the state, and that will have implications.
"The 31st is a good district and I'd love to see it stay the same. The counties are similar and the people get along."
Chairing the Senate Education Committee with 28 public school districts in his district, Pearce said the state does a good job of educating its young people; however, he said lawmakers may want to further enhance the METS program with its emphases on math, engineering, technology and science.
He has pre-filed Senate Bill 12 to modify the phase-in percentages for foundation formula school funding, basing the distribution of state aid on available appropriations and letting the Assembly allocate more funds than required for any particular school year, among other provisions.
Noting incoming Senate President Pro-tem Rob Mayer of Dexter has called for the first statewide right-to-work vote in 32 years, Pearce said proponents find the idea appealing because Missouri might thereby better compete for manufacturing plants with right-to-work states like Tennessee.
Enforced in 22 southern and western states, the law prohibits agreements between labor unions and employers to make union membership or the payment of union dues a condition of employment.
Asked if his district could be in danger of losing Whiteman Air Force Base in Johnson County, Pearce said the Base Realignment Closure Committee might unexpectedly put either Whiteman or Pulaski County's Fort Leonard Wood in jeopardy. "You always worry about military installations," he said.
"We do as much as we can to make Missouri a military-friendly state through the education of military families and a good business climate for contractors and sub-contractors. In this day and age, you have to be pro-active because you never know when next BRAC will meet."
Pearce said Whiteman's 509th Bomb Wing and B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers appear quite valuable to national security. "With just a few hours' notice, the B-2 can be anywhere in the world," he said.
"They're mobile and flexible and can be over the East Coast or West Coast in about the same amount of time. There is a lot of strategy to having Whiteman in the Midwest so it's safe from terrorism."
The Defense Department says the B-2 "is designed to be employed to strike high-value targets that are either out of the range of conventional aircraft or are too heavily defended for conventional aircraft to strike without a high risk of loss."
Heading the Senate Education Committee and working as vice chairman of the Veterans' Affairs, Pensions & Urban Affairs Committee, Pearce is also on the committees on appropriations, redistricting and jobs, economic development and local government along with the Joint Committee on Terrorism, Bioterrorism and Homeland Security.
He was elected to the Senate in 2008 after serving as the 121st District's state representative since 2002. He is a banker.