On Wednesday afternoon the House Republican Caucus held a press conference in the House Lounge after the opening of the legislative session in Jefferson City. Speaker Timothy Jones (r) took questions from the media after his prepared remarks.
This is the first half of the question and answer session.
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): I have many of my caucus members here who can get more specific on some of these issues if you’d like to speak to any of them or address your questions to them. Uh, in addition, uh, the issue that will, of course, be here at the beginning of session, all the way through and at the end, the budget, our House Budget chairman, Rick Stream, is here to answer those questions. So, happy to take any questions.
Question: Mister Speaker your, your, your comments on the speech on, on school choice, does that mean that [inaudible] here is essentially dead in the House?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Uh, I’m not sure, I’m not sure I understand the question, premise of the question.
Question: You’re, are you saying that, that you opposed to giving school districts in St. Louis County and Kansas City area the right to refuse kids transferred out of unaccredited schools [inaudible]?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): As I’ve said, uh, I am hopeful that all students continue to have the option for a good education. You know, I think we need to remember where this law came from. Uh, this law was passed with great foresight by a Democratically controlled General Assembly many, many years ago, and I believe, signed into law by a Democratic governor. I applaud their foresight. They, they, this was, this was an option that, that folks hoped would never happen , but in the case, if we had failing schools with, with no, with no end in sight for the status quo that this law would take effect. And I would say that it is a large bipartisan coalition that is very excited that for the first time in nearly forty years kids have an opportunity to escape the failing districts that they have, that they have been consigned to because of their zip codes. So, I’m willing to consider, uh, any legislation that will allow school districts to operate in a better efficient manner and to help them, uh, deal with the new, with the new law that’s been affirmed by our Supreme Court. But I want to make sure we protect the students’ choice, the students’ opportunities to finally have the opportunity for good education.
Question: What, what do you say to those school districts in St. Louis County that have been arguing [inaudible] that they don’t have adequate resources, facilities, and enough teachers to handle the potential numbers that’d be coming in from Normandy School District?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): You know, it’s interesting that you bring up that question. I actually was speaking with uh, former, uh, well, I, I actually don’t know his current status, but the superintendent of the Ferguson Florisant School District, Dr. Art McCoy. And I, I had a meeting about a month or two ago and he said we have the capacity, and any superintendent who wants to try and serve these children can absolutely do so. I know that shortly after Dr. McCoy accepting new students into his district he was, he was placed on some form of, uh, of, of leave. And I don’t know what his current status is. So, it seems that the education establishment continues to want t punish those who want to change the status quo and not work with us to change these districts that have been failing for so long. So, I, I would, I would take the words of Dr. McCoy to heart. I think if, eh, if, uh, if, if a school district wants to help the children in these failing districts they can do so. And I’ve spoken to many superintendents who have said, we just need some parameters, we need some tweaking, but, uh, I think to, to completely end the opportunity for choice is huge mistake for kids of our state.
Question: Is making some changes to the transfer law a priority for you this session?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): You know, I will be happy to, to, uh, you know, education is a priority for me. Helping kids succeed is a priority for me and I think it’s a priority for our caucus. So I will be happy to consider, uh, any piece of legislation that will assist in that regard.
Question: Is it broadening choice? Is that still on your agenda? Because right now you talk about choice, but it’s only for students that are in the failing districts. Are you gonna push again for something, tax credits , vouchers, however you want to put it, to, to broaden out that choice?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): You know, I, I won’t be filing any particular legislation in that regard but I’ll, I’ll wait to see what my caucus members file and what people want us to move forward on.
Question: Do you think the current law. If no changes are made, can work as it is now? Or do you see this as a law that needs some clarification to it?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Well, this law has been in effect for several months now and the world has not come to an end in the world of public education. As I said, I think if superintendents and, and local school leaders want to make this law work I think they can. If they feel they need some assistance from the legislature I invite them to come up with a proposal, uh, uh, to, to make it better.
Question: And are you concerned at all there’s those urban districts that are saying that they could go bankrupt if nothing’s done to fix this transfer situation?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): They have gone bankrupt or they could go [crosstalk], they could go bankrupt?
Question: They could go bankrupt.
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Well, I think we’ll have to wait and time, time, time will see exactly what changes we need to make. As I said, I’m more than happy to consider, uh, any proposals that are put before us to make sure that kids are the number one priority here.
Question: Income tax cuts, uh, how are they going to be different than last year?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Well, I know those bills, uh, have been drafted and will, and will soon be filed. I, I think there’s going to be, uh, probably some bills that are filed that may be very similar to the ones last year. I think you’re also gonna see some new proposals that focus on families, uh, middle, middle income families, uh, on small businesses. So I think you’re gonna, because, because we don’t know if the Governor is interested in providing tax relief for any Missourian I think you’re gonna see a number of options being put on the table. So the Governor can pick and choose, uh, as to whether he wants to provide tax relief for anyone.
Question: Have you talked with the Governor about this?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Uh, he, he, uh, he and I have not spoken on this subject.
Question: Do you plan to?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Uh, my door is open to the Governor, uh, any day, any time. I’m, I’m actually free this afternoon if he’d like to stop by and talk about tax relief.
Question: Subject of education funding, the Governor and the House Democrats have both called for more funding for the foundation formula. I believe you’ve used the term, appropriate funding for public education. What do you consider appropriate?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): Well, you know, the House has always been committed to more funding for education. Every single year I’ve been here the Missouri House, uh, has, has appropriated more money for education, except during the, the incredibly difficult budget years where we had to cut nearly a billion dollars out of the budget. And then we held education harmless. So, that’s been a priority for us. The Governor has been the one that’s used the most severe budget axe on the education system. He has time and again cut millions of dollars out of higher education. He’s withheld transportation dollars from K through twelve. Uh, you know, the, the Governor has used our education dollars and our budget in general, uh, to, to whatever his whims may be. Uh, I, I, I know you’re gonna see some significant legislation this year to prevent the Governor from using the budget, uh, as his own personal slush fund, to follow the constitution and to follow the appropriations, uh, as he signs in the bills that the General Assembly passes. So, last year the Missouri House, I believe, appropriated more money in a single year than ever before to K through twelve education. We’ll continue to make that priority again.
Speaker Timothy Jones (r).
Question: Mister Speaker [crosstalk].
Question: Will you expect any leadership support for any type of, say, alternate Medicaid proposal that would include both reforms and somewhat of an, of an increase or expansion of the, basically, what Representative Barnes has been working on?
Speaker Timothy Jones (r): You know, the Missouri House had several bills last year that, that moved, uh, moved forward, um, and involved transforming Medicare, uh, Medicaid and reforming Medicaid. Uh, there’s also been some stand alone reform bills. Uh, as we saw last year the Missouri Senate, um, was simply not interested in the topic. And we need a partner in this if we’re gonna move forward, uh, in, in actually getting the issue across the finish line. In the mean time I’m, I will be more than happy to move legislation forward, uh, along the same lines that we did last year, transforming Medicaid, making it better. We have a broken system. Putting a billion dollar band-aid on a broken system does not improve health care outcomes. And, in fact, uh, two major pieces of information came out this week – the State of Delaware, uh, did a Medicaid expansion, completed Medicaid expansion last year. They were handed a bill this year, uh, at the very beginning of this year that said they had to come up with an initial twenty-five million dollars. Secondarily, there was a major study that came out of Oregon that said that Medicaid expansion does not pro vue, not improve access to health care or health care costs and actually visits to the E R have increased. So, before we just dump money into the same old, uh, broken system let’s look at reforming it and making it better so more Missourians could benefit.