The upcoming session of the Missouri General Assembly has a full agenda of issues that will test the strength of the GOP and measure the strength of the Democrats on some key agenda items.
Incoming House Speaker Steve Tilley of Perryville outlined the prospects last week in a round of discussions with area business leaders. Tilley is a bright, effective leader whose star will shine in Missouri political circles for many years. And from early indications, the Speaker-elect will take the message from voters of fiscal responsibility and belt tightening.
Following the recent elections, the GOP will dominate both the House and Senate in Missouri. Gov. Jay Nixon - a master at walking the political tightrope - will be tested in the months ahead.
Missouri - like countless other states - is facing a budget shortfall of $400-500 million. That means cuts will be made in some important categories. Look for a reduction in state employees, a review of corrections spending and some fiscal issues for education.
Fully one-third of the state budget goes to Medicaid spending. And since that program is dictated by the federal government, it is virtually immune from spending cuts. I wish that weren't so but those are the rules of the game.
But the issue that will generate ample attention is the controversial right-to-work measure that will come up for discussion this year.
Senate President Rob Mayer of Dexter has pledged to bring the right-to-work discussion to the General Assembly and union forces have already pledged a brutal fight.
Right to work is a touchy subject in Missouri pitting largely rural interests against urban interests. This is nothing new.
Opponents argue that without mandatory union shops, workers' conditions and pay would suffer. Proponents point to the progress of states with right-to-work laws that encourage more industries to locate in those states.
Southeast Missouri has a fairly large union presence but has also lost industries which have candidly said they located elsewhere primarily because of right-to-work laws in surrounding states.
The unions - as in the past - will spend whatever funds are needed to defeat the measure. But it's equally hard to argue with statistics that clearly illustrate that some industries see mandatory union shops as a barricade to their success.
The compromise, if there is one, may be some relaxing of prevailing wage provisions on public buildings in Missouri. These laws mandate that wages for construction come under the prevailing wage provision which drives up the cost of construction substantially.
Only time will tell.
Union membership in Missouri has fallen to just 11 percent of the workforce but their financial bucket is full.
Here's one lingering fear I have about the right-to-work discussion. If approved this upcoming session, the measure will face a certain veto from Nixon. That could potentially put the question on the November 2012 ballot. That would assure a high union turnout and spending spree, which ultimately helps the current Obama administration's chances for Missouri in that election.
If that were the case, right-to-work legislation is important. But I would not want the measure on that all-important ballot.