Apr 20, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

AUDITOR ISSUES SUBPOENA FOR REVENUE DEPT RECORDS

State Auditor Nichole Galloway on April 19 issued a subpoena to the Missouri Department of Revenue to force it to turn over information concerning whether the department is complying with a state law requiring tax refunds to be issued within 45 days after a tax return is filed. Galloway said it’s the first time since she took office two years ago that she has needed to invoke her subpoena power due to a state agency’s refusal to comply with an information request.

“If the new administration intends to operate behind a wall of secrecy, I will use the full authority of my office to ensure transparency and accountability when taxpayer dollars are involved,” Galloway said in a news release.

Until 2015, state law allowed 90 days for the revenue department to issue tax refunds, although most refunds typically were sent out within weeks. However, Republican lawmakers felt the administration of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon was taking more time than necessary to issue refunds and enacted legislation, which Nixon signed into law, cutting the time for issuing refunds in half.

The Associated Press reported that requests for comment from Gov. Eric Greitens’ office and the revenue department went answered. Galloway, a Democrat, is giving the department until April 28 or she will go to court to enforce the subpoena.

 

HOUSE PROPOSES STUDY OF TRANSPORTATION FUNDING

One week after defeating a proposal to increase the state’s fuel tax for the first time in more than two decades, the House of Representatives on April 18 voted 96-36 in favor of a resolution to establish a 23-member task force to study proposals for increasing transportation funding. The resolution, HCR 47, now advances to the Senate for further action.

Missouri’s 17-cent-per-gallon fuel tax last went up in 1996 when the final 2 cents of a phased-in 6-cent increase lawmakers approved in 1992 took effect. Since that time, various panels and commissions have been created to recommend a long-term transportation funding solution, with little follow through by the legislature.

The Missouri Department of Transportation’s annual construction budget has plummeted by more than a $1 billion in recent years as it has been forced to shift a sizable portion of its revenue to paying off bonds it sold in the early 2000s to finance a short-term construction boom. In the next few years, MoDOT anticipates that it won’t have sufficient revenue to fully maintain the Missouri’s 34,000-mile state highway system.

 

FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS MISSOURI ABORTION RESTRICTIONS

U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs on April 19 issued an injunction blocking Missouri from enforcing two state laws imposing tight restrictions on the operation of abortion clinics. In doing so, Sachs said the Missouri restrictions violate a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down similar Texas laws.

One of the Missouri laws Sachs targeted requires abortion clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers, while the other mandates that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

While proponents of those laws claim they are necessary to protect women’s health, critics have long claimed they are thinly veiled efforts to close abortion clinics by imposing burdensome and unnecessary regulations on them. In its decision last year in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court agreed, noting that the Texas laws, like Missouri’s, only applied to abortion clinics and not facilities that provide other outpatient surgical services.

Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, plans to appeal Sachs’ ruling. On the same day the decision came down, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives granted first-round approval to legislation to impose a new set of abortion restrictions. That measure is House Bill 194.