Since term limits won't catch up with Peter Myers and Lanie Black for another three years, the area's state representatives admit they've got plenty of issues to tackle as the Missouri General Assembly session begins Wednesday.
Among issues to be addressed by Myers and Black, who together represent Scott, Mississippi, New Madrid, Stoddard and Cape Girardeau counties, in the upcoming session include tort reform, confined animal feeding operations, a toll road facilities bill and, of course, the budget.
"We'll hit the ground running with budget issues," noted Myers.
Both Myers and Black serve on the budget committee. "The budget is going to dominate everything again," agreed Black. "It could be anywhere from a deficit approaching $1 billion on the high side to $350 million on the low side in light of the cuts made last year. Even if it's $350 million -- that is a huge amount to continue to cut.
Black continued: "I think one thing for people to understand is when you are talking about a deficit of that magnitude, basically there are only four departments that can be cut enough to generate that kind of savings: higher education, secondary and elementary education, social services and health/mental health."
The budget committee is asking agencies to present from ground zero what they think are their important parts, Myers noted. From there, agencies will be prioritized, he said.
Myers, who is also a member of the conservation and natural resources committee, said they will work with the Department of Natural Resources to find a balance of not harming the environment and making industries comply with guidelines, but at the same time not putting them out of business.
And mad cow disease may be on the minds of many right now, but Myers pointed out action probably won't be taken on the state level. However, the disease will more than likely be discussed at hearings this session, said the agriculture committee chair.
In fact, Myers noted the state Department of Agriculture is more worried about bioterrorism than mad cow disease. Myers recently talked with state veterinarian Taylor Woods.
"The main things we're concerned about with bioterrorism in Missouri is making sure he (Woods) has enough veterinarians on staff or on call if any outbreak from bioterrorism occurs and be prepared," Myers said. "There's a lot of federal money going into anti-terrorism and we want to make sure Missouri gets its share and can effectively tackle the issue if needed."
Black commented that Missouri farmers are real frustrated with the St. Louis-based Monsanto Company at this point. He visited with some mid-level management at Monsanto about area farmers' frustration with Roundup-Ready seeds and plans to address the issue this session. Black added some water issues on Missouri's streams will probably be discussed this session.
Finally, on Black's agenda this session is a bill that would authorize the construction and maintenance of toll road facilities on Interstate 70 and at a later date, Interstate 44. This bill would only be possible upon the passage of a constitutional amendment authorizing the construction of toll road facilities, Black pointed out.
"Everybody is aware of the fact that I-70 is not in good shape and very heavily traveled," said Black, chair of the appropriations transportation and economic development committee.
Black said truck traffic is supposed to increase significantly in the next few years across Missouri interstate highways and with the addition of third lane would bring maintenance on the other two lanes. Since Missouri is in the center of the United States, motorists from several states travel the state's highways, Black said he wants to capture dollars from those people because they're wearing out Missouri's highways.
But first it's vital for people to understand it would take a constitutional change for authority to toll interstate highway change in Missouri, Black said.
"Our state and our highway department doesn't have sufficient funds to maintain highways in this state at the level I think people want," Black said. "I'm not one for raising taxes, but the reality is there is not sufficient dollars to do what needs to be done."