Missouri legislature prepares for state budget, more bills, keeps an eye on Greitens scandal

The Missouri Capitol Building

One busy week leads to another as Missouri lawmakers wrestle with tax credits, a major ethics bill, and next year’s state budget.

The House this week sent a proposed lobbyist gift ban to the Senate, which is conducting a public hearing on it next week. The bill has died two years in a row over concerns that accepting a piece of gum or a slice of pizza could become illegal. But Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said he’s committed to crafting a gift ban that the full Senate can support.

“I’m going to try to get a little bit of compromise before we vote it out of committee and put it on the floor,” he told reporters Thursday. “We’re definitely going to be talking about that bill, there’s no two ways about it.”

The measure does include a few exemptions, including free food at catered events as long as every lawmaker and statewide elected official in Missouri is invited.

Meanwhile, the governor is expected to release his proposed budget next week.

His chief operating officer, Drew Erdmann, recently sent a letter to agency heads in Jefferson City, telling them they needed to find an additional $300 million that can be reduced from the fiscal year 2019 budget that begins July first. Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, chairs the House Budget Committee. He wouldn’t comment on the letter, but indicated next year’s budget could be smaller than the current one.

“There are going to be some substantial core cuts recommended by the governor’s office,” Fitzpatrick said.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City.

Meanwhile, public hearings are scheduled on capping or renewing several tax credit programs, including those for low-income housing and preserving historic buildings. One bill in particular would limit the amount of low income housing tax credits Missouri could issue each year to $50 million. Even if it becomes law it would have no immediate effect, because the Missouri Housing Development Commission voted last month not to issue any low income housing incentives during the calendar year of 2018.

Another bill would also cap historic preservation tax credits at $50 million a year.

Lawmakers will continue their work while awaiting the outcome of a criminal probe by St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner into allegations that Gov. Eric Greitens threatened to blackmail a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair in 2015. Senate President Pro-tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the ongoing controversy and news reports are not a distraction.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Richard said. “I’ve been in leadership on both sides of this building, (and) there’s distractions in the building, outside the building … rest assured, I’ve been through troubled waters before and I can steer it again.”

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