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Friday, August 1, 2008


Missourians drove about 200,000 fewer miles in May 2008 than they did in May 2007, the St. Louis Business Journal reported in a July 29 story citing statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. The total miles Missouri drivers traveled dropped to nearly 6 million from 6.2 million a year ago, a decline of 3.9 percent.

With gasoline prices hovering around the $4-a-gallon range, fuel sales in Missouri dropped 3 percent from last year. According to data from the Missouri Department of Revenue cited by the paper, 355 million gallons of fuel were sold in Missouri in June 2008, down from the 366 million gallons sold in June 2007.


Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan on July 22 appointed a bipartisan duo of lawyers to take over a lawsuit that seeks to compel Gov. Matt Blunt to turn over e-mails being sought by investigators looking into whether the governor and top administration officials violated Missouri’s open records law. Callahan appointed Joe Maxwell and Louis Leonatti, both of Mexico, Mo., as “special assistant attorneys general” after earlier ruling that a team of independent investigators picked by Attorney General Jay Nixon to look into the matter had no legal standing to demand the records.

Maxwell, a Democrat, is a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker. Leonatti, a Republican, was nominated for the federal bench by President George Bush in 1992 but never confirmed for the post by the U.S. Senate. Callahan gave Maxwell and Leonatti until Aug. 26 to decide whether to continue pursuing the lawsuit.


During a July 11 news conference outside the offices of the Missouri Ethics Commission, House Speaker Rod Jetton fired back at Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a fellow Republican who a couple of weeks earlier criticized Jetton for conflicts of interest by working as a paid political consultant for several other GOP lawmakers. Jetton said he found the criticism puzzling since a top Kinder aide attempted to enlist Jetton’s services during Kinder’s short-lived gubernatorial bid earlier this year.

Kinder, who is running for re-election, has called for a state law prohibiting elected officials from serving as paid political consultants. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, also supports such a law. Their campaign season efforts come two years after state Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis, first filed legislation to do exactly what Kinder and Steelman now propose. Senate Republican leaders failed to hold committee hearings on Days’ bills – SB 1167 in 2006 and SB 126 in 2007.

After Jetton’s consulting business first came to light in 2006, he sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission as to its legality. Although Jetton claims the commission approved the arrangement, the opinion actually said that although Jetton hadn’t yet broken the law “the Commission has serious concerns about the ability of an elected official to avoid violation of these laws while conducting a consulting business for compensation.”


Without public ceremony, Gov. Matt Blunt on July 10 defied the will of Missouri voters by signing a bill into law that repeals Missouri’s limits on individual donations to political candidates. Voters first imposed the limits in 1994 with 73.9 percent support. In an attempt to minimize press coverage of the bill, Blunt’s office didn’t acknowledge that SB 1038 had been signed until late the next day, a Friday. Putting out controversial news late on a Friday is known as “taking out the trash,” since the resulting stories will end up in the Saturday papers, which typically have low readership.

Under current law, individual donors can give no more than $1,350 to a statewide candidate, $675 to a Senate candidate and $325 to a House candidate per election. When it takes effect on Aug. 28 – after the Aug. 5 primary elections but before the Nov. 4 general elections -- donors will be allowed to give unlimited amounts to candidates. SB 1038 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. Most Republican lawmakers supported the bill while nearly all Democrats opposed it.


After weeks of resistance, St. Louis-based Anhueser-Busch Cos., the largest American brewer, on July 14 relented to a $52 billion buyout by InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate. In the end, Anhueser-Busch forced InBev, the world’s largest brewer, to boost its offer to $70 a share from $65 a share. Anhueser-Busch stock had been trading in the $40 range when InBev first made its offer in June.

Because of InBev’s reputation for slashing costs following its acquisitions of other brewers, many Missouri officials are concerned about the eventual loss of high-paying jobs at the company’s flagship St. Louis brewery and corporate headquarters. The sale also deals a heavy psychological blow to St. Louis, which has considered its status as the hometown of Anhueser-Busch as a source of great community pride.


Gov. Matt Blunt on July 7 signed into law a bill intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Missouri. Most of the measure, however, simply reiterates existing laws prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving government services or gaining employment in the state. HB 1549 does include some sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants but most of the toughest employer provisions were stripped from the final version of the bill.


Gov. Matt Blunt on July 9 vetoed a bill that could have given the student member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators full voting rights starting in 2011. The General Assembly passed the bill in May with overwhelming support, culminating years of efforts by lawmakers to secure voting power for the student curator. The voting members of the Board of Curators opposed the bill and praised Blunt for vetoing it.

The board consists of nine voting members – currently one from each of Missouri’s congressional districts – and one nonvoting student member. However, Missouri is expected to lose a congressional seat in January 2013 based on the 2010 U.S. Census. SB 873 sponsored state Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would have given the ninth voting spot to the student curator starting in January 2011.

The bill passed 31-2 in the Senate and 100-47 in the House of Representatives. The number of supporters in the Senate would be sufficient to override the governor’s veto. The number of “yes” votes in the House fell nine short of the necessary two-thirds majority, although with 14 members absent from the final vote the mathematical possibility of reaching the 109 votes needed does exist. However, given that lawmakers of the governor’s party traditionally don’t support veto overrides except on hot-button issues, it unlikely an override will occur when the legislature convenes its annual veto session in September.


The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority has again missed a scheduled payment to the state that was required by a 2007 law championed by Gov. Matt Blunt that diverts some of the agency’s assets to the state to pay for capital improvement projects at public colleges and universities. MOHELA’s board of directors cited the continuing financial difficulties the agency has experienced since being forced to shift some of its assets to the state starting last fall

MOHELA was due to make a $5 million quarterly payment by the end of June. The board did agree to pay $850,000 to satisfy the remainder of its skipped March payment.


Gov. Matt Blunt has signed into law the $22.4 billion state operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which began July 1. This year’s budget increases overall spending by nearly $1 billion over the previous year. Blunt signed 12 of the 13 bills that make up the budget on June 27 before signing the last measure on June 30.

The budget includes a $121.3 million increase in direct state aid to local school, which falls in the normal range of increases public education receives each year. It also includes a $43 million increase for public colleges and universities, but the boost fails to restore total funding to these institutions to the FY 2002 level, which was the high-water mark for higher education funding. The budget did not restore the cuts to health care the governor and Republican-controlled General Assembly instituted in 2005.

Initial estimates show the state ended FY 2008 with a $50 million surplus. Revenue collections for the year grew by 3.7 percent, slightly higher than the 3.1 percent growth the budget was based on.