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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of January 3, 2011

University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee resigned Friday for personal reasons as the state's public colleges and universities face an uncertain budgetary future.

Forsee took an indefinite leave of absence in early December after doctors diagnosed his wife, Sherry, with cancer. He confirmed in an e-mail to students Friday that his wife's cancer was the reason for his resignation.

"It is clearly time for us to get Sherry's next six months of treatment completed and to focus on our family and great friends," Forsee said in the statement.

He had served as the UM System's president since 2007. Prior to that, he was chief executive officer of Sprint Nextel Corp.

All of Missouri's public colleges and universities face budget cuts this legislative session as the state deals with a shortfall Gov. Jay Nixon has estimated at $500 million.

Forsee has said University of Missouri students will face a certain tuition increase next year, and officials have said they will try to keep the hike in the single digits. The system would have to get state permission to raise tuition more than the inflation rate, which is just more than 1 percent.

Jefferson County Representative Tim Meadows is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit all speed limit cameras in the state of Missouri.

Meadows says these cameras are an intrusion on Missouri residents privacy.

Along with the speed limit cameras Meadows plans to work with Senator Jim Lembke to prohibit red light cameras as well.

It started in the Senate with a resolution from Cape Girardeau Republican Jason Crowell to kick the administration's support unit completely out of the capitol building.

He complained that the Office of Administration was failing to comply with a law he got passed last year requiring the administration to provide each legislator with a key to the Capitol dome.

"So, my response to OA [the Office of Administration] is to get out," Crowell said to his colleagues in the Senate.

"If we have an Office of Administration that is that arrogant and that obtuse to this body and this Senate and the rule of law that was passed, I don't want them anywhere near this august body of the Missouri Senate. "

Crowell's objections prompted a few other lawmakers to rise to argue the legislature needed to be tougher with the administration in oversight with the budget, reviewing administrative rules and confirming nominations.

As for those dome keys, the Administration Office commissioner, Kelvin Simmons, said they are working on meeting the requirements of a new law to get keys to legislators who just the day before had seen sworn into office.

Simmons noted that legislative staff already have keys to the dome.

A pro-business agenda highlighted Missouri's top legislative leaders' inaugural themes as Missouri's General Assembly began its 2011 legislative session. Both chambers have the same priorities — job and economy growth — which emerged on the first day of session.

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" is high on the list of priorities for the GOP but Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, said the seven-member Democratic caucus believes it is not the best way to create jobs or invite new business into the state.

“‘Right to work’ is not going to create one job,” Callahan said.

The program would also cost hundreds of millions more in incentives that the state is neither willing nor able to provide to draw business in, he said.

On the other side of the Capitol, Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, 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."

House Democrats of Tilley's subpoena proposal. House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, contested the necessity and said he has not had any problems with a free-flow of information.

"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 members of the House should be bipartisan 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.

Today Steve Tilley was sworn in as the new Speaker for Missouri's House of Representatives.

He starts his term with the largest majority in the history of the state and many goals to accomplish.

Some of those goals being balancing the state budget, the "Show Me Solutions Program" and education reform.

Tilley also acknowledged the mistakes of his predecessor in ignoring the minority voice and said things will be different this session.

Missouri lawmakers got some good budget news on the eve of their 2011 legislative session.

The administration's budget office announced that state revenue collections continue to run well ahead of projections.

For the first six months of the fiscal year that began July 1, 2010, total General Revenue collections have run 4.6 percent higher than the first six months of the prior fiscal year.

That is substantially higher than the 1.6 percent estimated increase that the administration had projected in the middle of the last legislative session.

With a higher-than-expected growth in revenue collections for the first-half of the current budget year, the estimated budget shortfall for next year has fallen from $700 million predicted several months ago to around $500 million.

The state projects a shortfall, despite an unexpected rise in state tax collections because a significant portion of the state's current budget has been funded by one-time federal economic recovery funds will dry up for next year's budget.

A coalition of the state's major business organizations announced a six-part package they urged the legislature to pass.

Rather than tax breaks for economic development and job creation, the proposals largely focus on non-tax issues that Missouri Chamber of Commerce President Dan Mehan would not cost the state lost tax revenue.

"This is about employers and employers' ability to compete," Mehan said. "This came from employers, it's from the ground up. These are things we reached consensus on. They don't cost the state money."

Included in the business groups' recommendations is changing the voter-approved minimum wage law that provides automatic increases. The business coalition proposed capping those increases so the state's minimum wage does not exceed the federal level.

They also called for imposing limits on liability lawsuits against businesses.

The one tax issue proposed by the business coalition would be to cap and eventually phase out the corporate franchise tax.

Legislative staff have estimated the state collects more than $70 million per year in the franchise tax.

Not included in the package is "right to work" legislation that would prohibit contracts that require an employee join a union or pay union dues. Mehan said the coalition was divided on that issue.

Republican legislative leaders previously had said that economic development and job growth would be the top priority issues for the 2011 legislative session.

The incoming Senate president pro tem, Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he thought "right to work" should be included in an economic package from the legislature, although he acknowledged it would face tough opposition and a potential filibuster in the Senate.

The Senate Democratic floor leader, Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, criticized the business coalition's package for not including reductions in tax credits to business and special interests that cost the state about $500 million per year.

"What's more important about this is list is what's not on this list," Callahan said. Late last year, a panel appointed by the governor recommended several tax credit changes including cutting nearly in half the cap on the historic preservation tax credit program that provides economic incentives for development and restoration of historic buildings.

Efforts to cut tax credits have deeply divided Republicans in the state Senate and have been met a solid wall of opposition from Republican leaders in the House.

Republican and Democratic leaders place jobs and the economy on their list of priorities for the legislative session. Session begins Wednesday at noon.

A Republican supermajority could lead to a strict conservative takeover, but Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said the House will be more cooperative and cordial than previous years.

Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, agreed and said the voters want a respectful government.

Some solutions to Missouri's bad economy were announced by a coalition comprised of state business leaders. The coalition announced six proposals to improve the economy. The group said the proposals would not cost the government money.

Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, criticize the proposals and said that tax credits should be looked at.

Get the print story.

Richard Clay is scheduled to be executed on January 12 for the murder of Randy Martindale.

Today Clay's family and his attorney held a news conference requesting clemency from Governor Jay Nixon.

During the conference the Clay's attorney spoke on why Clay should not be executed and Clay's son, Kiefer Clay spoke on the situation he has been forced to live with.

State Auditor Susan Montee's audit found that Mental Health Department had paid nearly $48 million in overtime during a three year period.

In once, the audit reported an employee had earned $98,000 in overtime pay during a two year period for an average of 253 hours of overtime per month.

The audit report recommends the department establish a policy to limit overtime work and to determine whether it would be cheaper to hire more employees rather than paying overtime.

"Employees working excessive amounts of overtime could compromise the health and safety of both clients and themselves by increasing the risk of medical errors, accidents, injuries, poor performance, and other problems," the audit warned.

In it's response, the Mental Health Department did not dispute the audit's findings. Instead, the agency wrote that it had implemented a new overtime policy in December that limits overtime pay to no more than 24 yours in a pay period.