JEFFERSON CITY - A pro-business agenda highlighted Missouri's top legislative leaders' inaugural themes as Missouri's General Assembly began its 2011 legislative session.
The state's 96th legislative session began with promises of bipartisan cooperation from Republicans and Democrats, despite their differing agendas. Both chambers have the same priorities — job and economy growth — which emerged on the first day of session.
In his inaugural speech, Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, acknowledged the error of the ways Republicans previously behaved toward the Democratic minority.
"The expansion of special committees was done under Republican control. It limited the power of the minority. It was wrong, and I'm going to fix it," Tilley said.
The Republican job promotion agenda was punctuated by a personal anecdote from the Senate’s new president pro tem, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, about the sudden loss of his job.
“I understand the challenges and difficulties of losing your job. ...My children were young and it was incredibly stressful to not know right away how I was going to provide for my family. But that life-changing moment led me to go back to college and finish my undergraduate degree and later a law degree. It was tough, but today I own my own law firm. Things could have gone much differently for me, but because there were other opportunities available when my first career ended abruptly, I was able to bounce back,” Mayer said. “My experience is why making sure other Missourians have job opportunities available to them is so important to me.”
“Right to work,” which would prohibit contracts that require an employee join a union or pay union dues and is enforced in six out of the eight states surrounding Missouri, is high on the list of priorities for the GOP.
Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, however, said the seven-member Democratic caucus believes “right to work” is not the best way to create jobs or invite new business into the state. The program would also cost more than the state is willing or able to provide to draw business in, he said.
“‘Right to work’ is not going to create one job,” Callahan said. “The irony of the argument about ‘right to work’ is that the proponents of it say ‘right to work’ will make Missouri more competitive. If you look at the states that have ‘right to work’ in the South, they also give huge taxpayer-funded inducements of hundreds of millions of dollars. … Then ask them, are you also then going to favor a $300 million investment like Mississippi did? … The answer is no, probably.”
Rather than focus on “right to work,” which splits the support of Republicans and businesses, Callahan suggested they examine the state’s tax credit program instead.
“I think we’d be far more productive to look at the $700 million that Missouri taxpayers spend on tax credits that members of the majority party are for reforming, and that we work through consensus to get that done,” Callahan said.
On the other side of the Capitol, Tilley cited his five priorities for the House, with jobs, accountability and education topping the list — similar to the priorities for House Democrats. In an unusual move for an inaugural speech, Tilley threatened to grant subpoena powers to the budget committee chair to help root out more "waste, fraud and abuse."
Tilley has already pre-filed SB68 which would extend the power to issue subpoenas to the lieutenant governor and include subpoenas for the production of records. He said he wants to give the budget chair and appropriation committee any tools they need to craft a budget that allows government to work within their means.
"My point is, I want the citizens of this state to know that the Missouri House under Republican control are serious about doing more with less," Tilley said.
House Democrats contest the necessity of Tilley's subpoena proposal. House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said that he has not had any problems with a free-flow of information and hopes that the subpoena power will not create a bigger divide between the two parties.
"I hope that it is not going to make things more partisan, and I hope that if they (Republicans) are going to have the subpoena power that they use it responsibly," Talboy said.
Tilley acknowledged in his inaugural address that Republicans and Democrats may not always see eye-to-eye during the legislative session. Despite the Republican supermajority, Tilley said partisan divides should not get in the way of good ideas and stressed that members of the House should be role models for one another.
"As your speaker, I have a great deal of responsibility and therefore the largest role in leading by example," Tilley said.