For economic and social justice advocates, Missouri's legislative session came to a welcome end last week. Pundits across the state started weighing in on what many have said was a "disappointing legislative session."
Term limits, which Missouri voters approved in 1992, may have played a role in the unwieldy session. Legislators are now restricted to serving eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. In fact, the average legislative experience of a Missouri senator is 3.4 years. Term limits mean that there are few legislators with long-term legislative experience who can be called on to shepherd bills through the legislature and show new legislators the ropes. This year, lawmakers had to craft corrections to legislation that had already been sent to the governor while they raced to pass various unnecessary tax breaks. Wealthier seniors got a tax cut costing $154 million a year, and $103 million in credits were handed out for everything from beef to hybrid vehicles, while legislators failed to find time to restore cuts in healthcare and other needed services.
The impact of term limits also mean that when the full impact of the tax cuts passed this year take effect, many legislators will be out of office and won't have to deal with the budgetary consequences of their tax cut votes. Perhaps more so than in prior years, closed-door negotiations that don't involve the minority party are commons. Senator Tim Green said that special interests have a stronger influence now than ever before, "Political contributions and special interest groups have become the avenue of reason, not public policy. Special interest dictates what goes on in this body."