JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Missouri's new Republican House leader boasted Wednesday that the Republicans now control the Missouri House with the largest majority in state history. He declared a Republican mandate for a "change in the culture of how we operate."
Members of the 96th General Assembly of the Missouri House and Senate were sworn in here Jan. 5. The Republican majority selected Steven Tilley, a Republican from Perryville, to be the new speaker of the house.
Unfortunately, Tilley's political agenda, titled "Show-Me Solutions," continues longstanding Republican practices, like tax breaks for the rich and big corporations, attacks on public education and women's reproductive rights, "English only" measures, and a proposed ban on union shops.
Like their national counterparts, Missouri Republicans are paying lip service to getting rid of the deficit and balancing the budget. However, their actions tell a different story.
The Republican majority here wants to cap state franchise taxes affecting big business, impose a moratorium on new regulations and fees affecting employers, and boost Missouri's business tax incentives, which Republicans claim will create a better business climate and attract jobs.
Additionally, while Missouri faces a projected budget shortfall of around $500 million, and while thousands of state workers are laid off and tens of thousands of Missourians are in need of state assistance, the Republican majority wants to gut social services instead of raising taxes on the rich.
"In other words," freshman state Rep. Clem Smith, D-71, told the People's World, "Republicans want to give tax breaks to the rich. They want to let corporations have free rein. They want to weaken unions. And they want to destroy our social safety net."
"How is that a 'change' in culture," he asked?
Smith, a former union autoworker and current union machinist, won a hard-fought primary election last August in St. Louis' North County, a predominantly African American working class community.
"As a union member," Smith continued, "I know tax breaks for the rich and corporations will not create good paying union jobs with benefits, health care and a pension. Tax breaks will, however, make the rich richer."
Some 280,000 Missourians have been unemployed for the past year and a half, and unemployment in St. Louis hovers around 9.5 percent.
State Sen. Rob Mayer, a Republican from Dexter, was selected Senate president pro-tem. Like Tilley, he wants to give tax breaks to big corporations in addition to passing legislation making it harder for workers to win discrimination and whistleblower lawsuits. While he sees no need to regulate big corporations, he does want to impose new restrictions on work-injury lawsuits.
Another of Mayer's top priorities will be "making Missouri a right-to-work state."
So-called "right-to-work" legislation will dramatically weaken unions and lower pay and benefits for all Missouri workers.
According to the AFL-CIO, the average worker in a "right-to-work" state makes about $5,333 less a year than workers in other states ($35,500 compared to $30,167). In addition, union density is far lower in "right-to-work" states: 6.6 percent compared to 15.1 percent elsewhere. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of workplace death is 51 percent higher in states with "right-to-work" legislation.
The House minority leader, Mike Talboy, D-37, from the House floor criticized the Republican approach to creating jobs. He said, "Our number one priority should be creating and preserving jobs. But in our haste to make Missouri more business-friendly, we need to make sure that we avoid becoming anti-worker."
Talboy continued, "While it is often said that business creates jobs, it is really consumers who create jobs because they are the ones who choose to buy the goods and services and make it possible for those businesses to exist and succeed."
Nearly half of the 163 state House members and more than one-third of state senators are freshmen.