The halls of the Capitol have been quiet since the close of veto session last month, but legislators and staff members are busy behind the scenes drafting legislation and gearing up for the next legislative session. There have also been several committee hearings in Jefferson City and other areas of the state, most notably the House Special Committee on Oversight of Local Taxation.

The committee was formed to study the marked increases recently in property value assessments, particularly in St. Louis County and Jackson County. The committee was also tasked with looking at local sales tax rates as well as the potential implementation of internet sales taxes. Many residents and businesses have seen their property assessments skyrocket, leading to thousands of appeals on both sides of the state. Testimony was heard during the hearings from property owners, as well as the St. Louis and Jackson County Assessors. While no clear-cut solutions were discussed during the hearings, we expect several bills to be filed next session dealing with the above issues.

General Assembly members and Executive branch office holders are also busy in campaign mode, holding fundraisers in hopes of showing strong financial numbers to ward off potential challengers when filing for office begins early next year. According to the latest Missouri Ethics Commission filings, Governor Mike Parson continues to hold a commanding lead in cash on hand over Auditor Nicole Galloway, his Democrat challenger. Galloway reported $540,315 cash on hand, compared to $1,256,703 for Parson. Galloway however, outraised Parson in the last quarter as she attempts to close the gap.

Two other candidates have announced their intention to replace Parson as well. Fellow Republican Jim Neely, who is a current state representative from Clinton county, has thrown his hat in the ring setting up a primary showdown between the two. It doesn’t appear as though Neely is a serious threat to Parson as he only raised $96 last quarter. Libertarian Rik Combs has also started his campaign for the top spot on the ticket. Combs is from Jefferson City and had previously run unsuccessfully for the District 59 state representative seat, running then as a Republican.

In a closely watched race in House District 99, Republican Lee Ann Pitman is squaring off against Democrat Trish Gunby. The outcome will be decided in a special election to be held on November 5. Jean Evans held the seat previously but resigned after being named Executive Director of the Missouri Republican Party. Most observers think the race is a toss-up at this point, as neither candidate has emerged as the clear frontrunner. The district is in the Manchester area of St. Louis County.

In other news, the unemployment rate in Missouri continues to drop as reflected in the most recent numbers from the Department of Economic Development. Key industries in the state showed a 1.1 percent growth in overall job gains in the last year. The September unemployment report shows the rate at 3.1 percent, which continues to be slightly lower than the national average. The low rate, however, brings the added challenge of employers struggling to find qualified workers. A recent survey showed that 47 percent of employers say there is a shortage of skilled workers. This has led to nearly 90 percent of employers hiring less experienced applicants and then having to bear the added cost to train them once hired. Even with the challenges, one-third of employers say they are planning on adding more jobs in the near future.

We will continue to monitor and keep you updated on political news and happenings in Jefferson City and around the state. We appreciate the opportunity to represent you. Nikki Strong, Strong Consulting Group.