Representative: Budget Will Control Session

By: Tim Schmidt
Posted 6/1/10

State Rep. Mike Sutherland predicts his final legislative session will be very similar to his first. In 2003, crafting a budget against a backdrop of dramatically reduced revenues, dominated the …

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Representative: Budget Will Control Session


State Rep. Mike Sutherland predicts his final legislative session will be very similar to his first. In 2003, crafting a budget against a backdrop of dramatically reduced revenues, dominated the session. Sutherland expects this year's 96th session, which began Wednesday, to be lively following some tense moments last year as the Republican-led House and Senate adjusted to newly elected Gov. Jay Nixon. As he prepares for his final year of his fourth term, Sutherland acknowledged the decisions related to the budget will ultimately determine how successful the session is for his peers. "It's hard to even know where to start," said Sutherland, a Republican from Warrenton who represents the 99th District which covers Warren County and parts of Montgomery County. "It will be very difficult. We definitely have to prioritize." Sutherland will close out his final term serving as the chairman of the Ways and Means committee and vice chairman of the joint committee on tax policy. Other committees he is a member of include public safety, state parks and waterways, and a special standing committee on infrastructure and transportation funding. Sutherland also will be one of 52 House members (out of 163) and 10 senators (out of 34) who are term limited and will be ineligible to run again. In that respect, Sutherland remarked he won't be taking a desperate approach in trying to have additional bills passed. He cites passage of the Senior Care Protection Act and the creation of the state sales tax holiday as some of his biggest past accomplishments. "That will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out," Sutherland said. "People want to leave a mark." Sutherland, who was formerly the Warren County assessor from 1996-2002, said he is unsure about his future. While he hopes to remain in public service, a run for the Senate is not in the picture. "I have a year to figure that out," he said.   Large Carnivore Act One of the loose ends Sutherland hopes to finally see progress on this year is passage of the Large Carnivore Act that he has annually sponsored. The proposed law is aimed at regulating ownership, possession, transportation and breeding of large carnivores defined as any cat of the felidae family or any bear species nonnative to Missouri and held in captivity. The bill also forces owners of the animals to obtain permits and a license from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Increased awareness was brought to the Sutherland-sponsored bill following an August 2008 incident where a male volunteer had his leg surgically amputated after being mauled by a tiger at Wesa-A-Geh-Ya, an animal facility located in the northwest portion of the county. The facility closed soon after the attack. As part of the bill, any person who owns or possesses a large carnivore is liable in a civil action for the death or injury of a human or another animal or for property damage. Animal owners also would be required to notify law enforcement authorities if an animal should escape. The bill has been approved by the House only to be shot down in the Senate every year, Sutherland said. "Hopefully we can get this passed this time," Sutherland said. "I know it's been a big concern for people from this area."   Other Areas With the help of researchers, Sutherland is looking into the impact of implementing a sales tax on Internet sales transactions to make it more equitable for Missouri businesses competing with online businesses in other states. At the very least, Sutherland said, discussion needs to begin on the topic. "It's a fairness issue. My main focus is on whether tax on Internet sales is putting (local) businesses at a disadvantage and pulling customers away from them," he said. "We want to put them on a local playing field and make it fairer." Sutherland also wants to see the elimination of the corporate franchise tax and the corporate income tax. The corporate franchise tax was removed for businesses with assets less than $10 million compared to the previous mark of $1 million, a change made from a bill that Sutherland sponsored last year. Around 12,000 businesses in the state were helped by the move, according to Sutherland. With unemployment rates remaining high across the state, Sutherland said it will be important to help lower those figures. "We're going to be working hard to encourage businesses to stay in Missouri and expand here," he said. No matter how the session plays out, Sutherland said a final priority for him is making sure returning legislators possess certain knowledge to continue the fight for certain issues when he and other counterparts leave for the final time. "What concerns me about term limits is you lose the institutional knowledge," Sutherland said.