The Legislature adjourns. Get ready for economic Nirvana

Now that the first regular session of the 99th General Assembly has adjourned, Missourians should be alert: If the Republicans who, for the first time in eight years control both Houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office, are correct, Missouri is in for a serious economic boom.  Highways may be dilapidated, but they will be jammed with employers flocking to the state. They will be drawn by the right-to-work bill that was the first order of business for the Republican supermajorities and Gov. Eric Greitens last winter. They will love the tax cuts that helped create a$500 million hole in the state budget, but all the economic growth that’s coming is going to fix that. Or so Republicans say.

Businesses will love our new law that makes it easier for them to fire people without having to worry about pesky discrimination lawsuits. They’ll love the tort reform bills that limit how much money people injured on the job are entitled to and restrict who may be considered an expert witness. They’ll be happy that the Senate tied itself in knots in the final hours of the session and then nullified higher minimum wages in St. Louis and Kansas City. The House went along with it. The Legislature’s final act of the year was putting the screws to the working poor. The perfect touch. Just perfect.

 While the Missouri Chamber of Commerce got almost everything it wanted, budget problems meant cuts in almost every other state program and no raises for state employees. Cuts pitted one group of poor people — elderly and disabled renters — against another group of poor people who need care at home or in nursing facilities. The forthcoming economic boom, in theory, will take care of all of that.

“With strong conservative leaders now, we’ve put Missouri in a position to build one of the most competitive economies with more jobs than anywhere in the country,” Greitens said when he signed the anti-union right-to-work bill in February. “That’s what we can do.”

Missourians should hold him to that.

In all, this was a legislative session where a lot of chickens came home to roost. A more conventional Republican governor might not have antagonized people in his own party. An income-tax cut enacted in 2014 finally began phasing in to reduce state revenues over the next five years by an estimated $620 million. In addition, a variety of tax credits and corporate tax breaks passed by the Legislature in recent years — including a $100 million mistake in 2015 — continue to erode what the state has to spend.

The state’s roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, but the Legislature again couldn’t find the will to raise the state’s lowest-in-the-nation fuel tax.

Infrastructure issues, along with less state investment in higher education and penurious state services, serve as major deterrents to economic development. On the off chance that the Republicans’ promised economic boom doesn’t materialize, voters might want to remember that.

(Excerpted from St.Louis Post Disptach 5/13/17)