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Four weeks left: School transfers, sales taxes to take stage

  

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With only a month left in the legislative session, House and Senate lawmakers are narrowing focus to a handful of priorities to send to Gov. Jay Nixon. Among the biggest priorities from leadership in both chambers: student transfers and sales tax increases.

After sending Nixon a tax cut last week likely to ignite yet another battle between the Democratic Governor and the legislature, Senate Republicans are expected to approve a one-percent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects around the state. The issue has fractured the majority party, with some more conservative members questioning the logic in cutting taxes by more than $600 million while also increasing taxes by $800 million.

Democrats remain divided on the issue as well. Some say that sales taxes disproportionately impact low-income homes and individuals who spend a higher percentage of their income on things like food and clothes. Others see the crumbling I-70 or roads in their own districts and the need for alternative transportation options though, and say the increase is needed to keep Missouri competitive and safe.

Last year, a similar measure died near the end of session on the Senate floor with St. Louis Republican John Lamping, who led several conservative lawmakers in a filibuster of the bill. But the bill is expected to reach the floor much earlier than last year. Supporters hope that the longer timeline will help with negotiations with Lamping, who is not seeking re-election, and his colleagues.

The Senate managed to pass a sweeping change to the state’s school transfer laws in the light of the transfer crisis that nearly bankrupted Normandy Schools in St. Louis and sent thousands of kids outside their home districts for an education. The House began hearings last week on the bill, and more hearings are likely to continue before it comes to the chamber. The bill is likely to put Republicans and Democrats aligned with the education establishment against equally vigorous advocates for sweeping reforms like vouchers. Stakeholders say that the bill, which represents an attempt at a compromise between the two camps, has an uncertain fate in the House. But with dozens of individual lawmakers sitting in districts struggling with the current law, there is plenty of enthusiasm in the chamber to continue working toward a bill.

Finally, the the final weeks slip by, labor leaders are certainly keeping a close watch on the House, where Speaker Tim Jones has been whipping votes, searching for that magical 82 votes needed to send the bill to the Senate. Jones won’t bring the bill up for a vote unless he’s confident there are enough votes to move forward.