JEFFERSON CITY- Republican Jay Barnes is looking for relection in the race for State Representative in District 60 serving the Jefferson City area. But for Barnes, election season is not a new thing.
Barnes has represented Jefferson City in the Missouri House of Representatives since 2010. Before that he worked as a speechwriter for former Missouri Governor Matt Blunt and also served as the policy director for Kenny Hulshof's campaign in 2008. When he is not at the capitol, Barnes works as an attorney at Barnes and Associates in Jefferson City.
Here is the full transcript of Barnes' interview with KOMU 8 reporter Nichole Cartmell.
Cartmell: I just want to start things off with your general opinion about education and where you would like to see it go in the next couple of years?
Barnes: Well obviously education I think is key to long-term economic development. There's two areas of education the state has an impact on. One is K-12 education, the second is higher education. K-12 education has been funded the past couple of years at record levels. Now it's not as high as a lot of folks would want to see it. It's not as high as I would want it. But at times with difficult budgets we're doing a good job allocating money and making sure that we are investing in our future through education. In fact I think there was one plan, budget plan that would have cut $200 million from education. That didn't happen. We got that money back and we didn't make those cuts. I think that is key. I also think there's a key to make sure students in struggling school districts in St. Louis and Kansas City have the greatest opportunities we can give them to succeed, just as well as the students in flourishing districts in wealthy suburbs of those cities.
Cartmell: What are your thoughts on unaccredited schools, some of those schools that you talked about just now in Kansas City and St. Louis. A lot of those seem to be unaccredited and even in this area. What would like to see happen with those?
Barnes: Well we need to give those kids and their parents as many opportunities as possible to get in the best schools possible for their children. It also means we got to hold those school's accountable. One thing I discovered as Chairman of the Government Accountability Committee is we do these standardized tests. The state administers standardized tests at schools around the state, but we don't buy the software necessary to determine if there's cheating going on in certain schools. Now, I don't think cheating is widespread, but the software is inexpensive, and if we are going to go through the expense of having these tests, which I think we should, we should also have to invest that money to buy software to ensure the results we're getting are accurate.
Cartmell: So then do you think the test scores would help the change in test software, change to help those test scores get higher?
Barnes: Well that's not directly related to the test scores themselves, except to the extent that we want to make sure that we're getting accurate indicators of test scores and every classroom and every school around the state. I think the parents of children in those schools, the parents and taxpayers in those school districts deserve to know that the results that are being reported are accurate. In terms of improving performance, I think we can look at some curriculum standards. You know, the state of Massachusetts in the mid-90s did some massive reforms to testing and to curriculum standards. Their results in their state catapulted to the top ranking in the entire country in terms of education, and I am interested in looking at that. When that happened it was a bipartisan reform and I am interested in looking at the differences between Massachusetts's law in that area and in Missouri law in that area and see what we can do to improve education.
Cartmell: Do you think the public school funding formula needs to be fixed?
Barnes: It does need to be fixed. The problem with the public school funding, the problem with fixing the public school funding formula is, is it's not a partisan issue, it's not a ideological issue, it's a regional issue. When you talk about gridlock in government, the worst kind of gridlock isn't partisan or ideological. The worst kind of gridlock is regional because it is very hard for folks to make compromises on a regional basis. In order to fix the funding formula you've got to have everyone from urban school districts, from suburban school districts, from rural school districts and then from school districts in places like Columbia and Jefferson City that don't quite fit into either of those categories, and finding a way to reach that combination is very difficult. Because anytime you move one thing it upsets somebody else. So I think there needs to be a fix, can I explain to you what the fix is going to be, no because it's going to take statewide bargaining amongst different regional interests and it's very hard to say where that comes out.
Cartmell: How would you propose that this bargaining take place?
Barnes: Well I think there's already been a process. People have been working on fixing some problems with the funding formula and I think those discussions need to continue. I think the governor's office probably needs to take a leading role, because as an elected statewide official, whoever the governor happens to be, they got to look out for the entire state. And as a state representative we've got to look out for the entire state and we have to look out for our own constituency. And so it's difficult sometimes to meld those two different goals. We want to do what's right for the entire state. We also want to do what's right for our individual districts, and most of the time I think the right thing to do is do what's right for you individual district. So you've got to have leadership from a statewide level, from the people who represent everybody and not just their own districts.
Cartmell: Are there any differences or changes you would like to see happen in Jeff City with education?
Barnes: I think Jeff City Public Schools are great. I think, I don't think, I know that there's a plan to go to an academies setting, where students choose interests and then their classes are arranged around those interests, which keeps them involved. Where it's happened elsewhere test scores have improved, so we know it's worked elsewhere. I believe it will work in Jefferson City. When it works here that might be a model to offer to other school districts to say ‘Look, here's what we did in Jefferson City to make our education system even better.' Other schools ought to look at this same thing.
Cartmell: So then what role do you think the state should play in failing schools, schools that are failing?
Barnes: Well again, I think the state should play a big role in failing schools because obviously that school district is failing. They might need some outside help. And so what you saw in St. Louis is a provisional school board with state help. I think they are making improvements in St. Louis, which is very good. I think you also need to see stuff to give students and parents more options so they have the opportunities that everybody else that folks in wealthier neighborhoods have. You know, the American dream is opportunity for everyone regardless of their color, regardless of where they are from, regardless of who their parents are, regardless of what jobs their parents have. It's that anybody in our country can become successful. I mean look at our president is the son of an immigrant and a middle class girl of Kansas. You know that's an inspiring story and look around. There's success stories like that everywhere and we want that to be true for every single child in the state of Missouri to have the maximum amount of opportunities possible to reach their full potential.
Cartmell: On to the topics of jobs, economy, and taxes. How would you like to promote job opportunities in Missouri?
Barnes: I think the biggest job opportunity, the biggest job creation opportunity we have right now is with the development of new nuclear energy in Callaway County through what are called small modular nuclear reactors. It has the potential to be $1.2 trillion industry which would be headquartered right here in mid-Missouri. That's something that would make it the biggest industry in mid-Missouri. It would make it the biggest industry in our state. It'd make it one of the biggest industries in the entire Midwestern region. So in terms of job creation opportunities right now that's the biggest there is out there.
Cartmell: So what would you like to see, what is the process in getting that here?
Barnes: Well the first step in the process is the federal government has a competitive grant process where companies are competing for federal dollars to basically start operations in this field. We have got a local company that is competing. They have partnered with Westinghouse, which is an international corporation and manufacturer. They've made a bid; they believe that they could be successful in that bid. The results haven't been announced yet. And if they are successful in that bid the question is how can we get this kick started in moving as fast as possible, so we can start kicking out small modular nuclear reactors for manufacturing facilities right here in mid-Missouri, that are being shipped around the world and bringing an incredible amount of economic activity and new jobs right here.
Cartmell: So then what are your thoughts on nuclear energy and taking advantage of that?
Barnes: I am a big supporter of nuclear energy. It's clean energy. It is something like we just talked about that could lead to thousands of jobs here. Missourians, a lot of people don't realize this, but Missouri benefits from having the seventh lowest utility rates in the entire country. Unfortunately we have got a lot of old coal plants and there's a nuclear plant here. Those coal plants have to be upgraded or some of them might be taken offline, and as we go through the next 20 to 30 years as they are being taken offline or maybe not being updated utility prices are going to go up. And so to ensure that we're going to maintain stable electric rates for now to 50 years from now we need to start thinking about building an infrastructure right now. Not 20 years form now, not 30 years from now, right now to prepare for the future. And in terms of economic development, energy prices are one of the biggest inputs for any manufacturing business and you know we can talk about tax credits for manufacturers and we can talk about this and that, but the fact is every single business, every hospital, every school, every manufacturer needs power to run and they need affordable power to be successful. And so the goal is to create not just those jobs creating in the process of manufacturing small modular nuclear reactors but to create long-term low cost energy, to encourage other manufacturers to bring their operations into our state.
Cartmell: What are your thoughts on workplace lawsuits and the amount of damages a worker could receive for disease related injuries?
Barnes: Well I, we're talking about what's called occupational disease. Occupational disease is tied into something called the second injury fund. Those two pieces of legislation have sort have been married together and I've voted against the so-called occupational disease fix multiple times. The reason being, we've got to have a second injury fund fix too and we've never gotten to the point where both the occupational disease portion of the bill and the second injury portion of the bill were satisfactory. And until we can fix both, I am going to be a no. But in terms of that work comp issue is something that still needs to be addressed. I think everyone that looks at it says it needs to be addressed; it's just difficult getting a yes on both issues.
Cartmell: What ways would you like to help the economy?
Barnes: Well I think we can talk about two things. Locally, last year we got a two percent pay increase for state employees here in Cole County. That meant $15 million in additional wages for folks who work in Cole County. I am going to fight every single year to get pay raises for state employees, because it's good for our local economy and frankly they are way underpaid state employees in Missouri. Their pay is ranked 50 out of 50 in the entire country. The state of Missouri has more people on public healthcare roles than all, but I think two employers in the entire state. That's a travesty, that's something that should not happen. The best companies in the world don't pay their employees poorly. Apple pays the people, most of the folks who work for it in the United States very good wages. Microsoft pays good wages. Google pays even better wages than I think the other two. If you want an effective state workforce from now and into the future, we've got to increase this pay. Because we've got a lot of folks who came in earlier who, you know, there haven't been pay increases in the last 10 to 15 years. We've been stuck and we need to move beyond that. So I was happy last year the governor proposed a one percent pay increase for state employees. We actually doubled it. With starting in the house, through my work and a lot of other folk's work we got that doubled, so there's a two percent increase. That's still not enough, there still needs to be a lot more work, but every single year I am going to fight for state employee pay raises until we get out of that 50 out of 50, until we get probably where we belong which is in the mid thirties where our cost of living is. You know Missouri state employees, we don't need to be like California where we are ranked number one in the country. We don't need to be New York who are ranked number two, but we sure as heck shouldn't be last. We should be in the mid thirties. So that's issue number one. In terms of statewide jobs issues I think the biggest thing is small modular nuclear reactors in Callaway County. We're talking about short term; well we've got both short and long term economic benefits. Short term benefits of immediate construction, design professional jobs. Long term benefits of manufacturing jobs located in mid-Missouri and then the ancillary benefit of a long-term supply cheap, renewable energy that affects the bottom line of every manufacturer in our state or thinking about moving to our state. It's the greatest jobs bill; it'd be probably the biggest piece of economic development legislation to pass in the last 15 to 20 years.
Cartmell: You've done a lot of work on Mamtek and that whole situation. Tell me about your position on public oversight of economic deals?
Barnes: Well we need a lot more public oversight of economic deals. What we found in Mamtek was the Department of Economic Development had information that should have led them to basically tell everyone in the world, ‘Hey we got to call this deal off,' but they never said that. We also found that their due diligence investigation was to be charitable not as good as it should've been. For example, they asked the Mamtek CEO for a financial statement, they claimed they had $7.2 million in cash or cash equivalence. That financial statement was never supported by any third party saying yes this is in fact true, they do have this money in the bank. Instead, the only item I saw was a note from a bank in California that said they had $25 thousand in the bank. Well $25 thousand is a far cry from $7.2 million. So I think if it is important enough for the Department of Economic Development to ask somebody for financial information, it is also important enough to get a third party to verify that what the applicant said is true. For publicly traded companies that's easy, say refer to our SEC report that we have to file ever quarter to show our stockholders what we are doing, and show the general public what we're doing. For businesses like Mamtek it's also easy. I mean I think the average citizen knows how easy it is to get on the computer and print out a bank statement. It takes about five minutes; I can get you mine in probably three. And yet the Department of Economic doesn't require that simple step. I think that we need to require that simple step. The other thing I think they have to do is make sure if the Department of Economic Development gets negative information about an applicant for state tax credits they have got to share that information with people in local communities vying for that business. In this case they had information that Mamtek basically didn't have an operating plant in China, even though they were telling the people of Moberly that. That information was never, the specifics of that were never shared with the people of Moberly, and if it had been we wouldn't be sitting here today talking about Mamtek. It never would've come up in the public because the deal would have been squashed before anything got out of the door. Those are two easy things. I mean there's another provision there that says that folks who represent the Department of Economic Development in foreign countries cannot also come back and represent the companies they are investigating before the Department of Economic Development's conflict of interest provision. If someone is going to represent the state of Missouri, the taxpayers of Missouri, they ought to represent taxpayers, not businesses vying for applications from the taxpayers. You got to pick one or the other; either you are going to represent taxpayers or you are going to represent the businesses trying to get tax credits. I think that is a common sense provision that they ought to adopt. But of course there are other provisions as well in that legislation. What I've said and what I am going to continue to do, I offered it as an amendment on I think five or six different bills last year. I am going to offer those items as an amendment on every single economic development deal, economic development bill, dealing with tax credits from now until I am no longer in the legislature. And so if we are going to have a bill dealing with tax credits or creating new tax credits this is going to be a part of it.
Cartmell: So what is your position on tax increases? You were just talking about the taxpayer, what would you like to see?
Barnes: We are not going to increase taxes, not on my watch, not on the Republicans in the House, the watching Republicans holding control of the House. And you know I think both gubernatorial candidates have said we're not increasing taxes. So there might be folks who want to increase taxes but it's not happening on my watch.
Cartmell: So then how would you like to address the tax burden on small businesses and even the taxpayer?
Barnes: Well I think one thing that is good about Missouri is the state tax burden on small businesses and individuals in Missouri is relatively low compared to other states. Now that doesn't mean there is not a burden because of course there is but we're not one of the worst taxing states in the country, we are a low taxing jurisdiction. That's a good thing; we don't want to change that. Then the federal government, however, obviously is different animal and I would like to be able to lower tax rates for small businesses in the federal government but as a state representative I can't really do that. The other thing, actually, the other thing I might mention on that is we actually did reduce taxes for small businesses that create jobs. I think you've seen that in some gubernatorial ads and I voted for that bill. I was happy to vote for that bill, it was endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which is the largest organization of small businesses in the entire state and in the entire country for that matter.
Cartmell: So with taxes you would like to see those kind of just stay where they are, correct?
Barnes: More or less, I think there are going to be some proposals to reduce tax rates. I think we have to be careful about impacts on revenue. There are economic benefits to reducing tax rates. Capitol flows to the point of lowest resistance in the modern world where it's easy to move operations for a lot of companies, particularly professional service organizations, particularly sort of intellectual property type companies, not necessarily manufacturers but companies that don't deal in making stuff that requires factories that have to be built. And when you live in an economy and in a world that where capitol is easy to move and flows freely you've got to make sure that you are as competitive as possible to attract those businesses an entrepreneurs to your state.
Cartmell: Did the legislature have any difficulty in passing the budget?
Barnes: The House did not have any difficulty in passing the budget. The Senate had a little bit of difficulty because I think three or four different senators with problems in certain areas. I think Senator Schaffer who is from mid-Missouri, who is the budget chair, did an outstanding job of dealing with folks who are very hard to deal with, and without Senator Schaffer's work we might not have been able to pass a budget. But Senator Schaffer was able to work across the isle within, with people within the Republican party with whom he has big disagreements, and was able to put together a budget that was good, made sense for our state, saved funding for education and we got those to the governors desk. I think so long as he is the budget chair in the Senate, if the House isn't going to have any problems passing the budget, okay, so long as Senator Schaffer is the budget chair in the senate we know that education funding is going to be protected. And we know he is probably the best person in the entire General Assembly to deal with the different interests both within the republican caucus in the Senate and with the democrats in the Senate, because as the budget chair in the Senate you got to be able to deal with people who have diametrically opposed positions and I think he's done an outstanding job doing that. So I think that we're going to pass budgets in the House and we are going to get budgets to protect education out of the Senate because of Senator Kurt Schaefer.
Cartmell: We have experienced a pretty harsh drought for agricultural businesses this year. Is there any way that the state government can help ease those pains for some of these agriculture people?
Barnes: I think that there was a program; the governor had a program helping with the investment in wells to get folks more water on their property. I think that's going to have a good long-term benefit because even after this drought is over those wells are still going to exist on those properties. So next time we have a drought, the folks who got those wells this time around are going to have less of a problem then they did this time. So in terms of drought policy I think that was a good idea to make a long term, we talk about infrastructure investments, infrastructure is something you build and it stays there and you are able to use it to encourage economic activity tomorrow and 20 years in the future. I don't know what the shelf life of these wells are, I think it is a really long time and so that was one thing that was good to help mitigate some of the impact of the drought. Of course, there is only one, only God can make all impacts of the drought by bringing rain but what little could be done I think was done.
Cartmell: South Callaway has the potential to make use of a lot of nuclear energy. Would you like to see them also take advantage of other types of resources such as coal or wind even?
Barnes: I think anything that makes sense long-term sense to rate payers is something that ought to be looked at. Some folks talk about solar in Missouri and you know I support solar where it makes sense. Some folks talk about wind in Missouri. I am not sure wind makes as much sense in Missouri because this ain't western Kansas, where the wind blows 50 miles an hour every single day. There are some places in Missouri where the wind blows well. It is relatively small pockets compared to other parts of the country. So if it makes sense to rate payers in the long run, yea absolutely.
Cartmell: Would you like to see any changes to Missouri's health care laws?
Barnes: Well that's an interesting question, and a lot on that question depends on the presidential election. Because what I think you'll see nation wide is if Mitt Romney wins you're going to see basically the country hit pause to see what the federal government is going to, is going to change with the new healthcare law. If Mitt Romney wins by virtue of, unfortunately the federal government has so much control over health care policy that it would be detrimental for us to try to sort of create something without knowing what the federal government is going to do. We got to, if he wins we kind of got to see what the federal government is going to do first to see what parameters we can operate under before moving forward. I think however, if Mitt Romney wins he's going to give a lot of flexibility to the states and I would think that, I would hope that he would give that signal very early so we can start working on some solutions that make sense that use market forces rather than what we have seen in the affordable care act. On the other hand if President Obama wins, I think you're going to see, you can see more legislation more quickly to sort of do things our own way and ask for federal waivers to increase enrollment in health care, health insurance policies and without knowing who the president is going to be and what the policy is going to be from the federal level it is really difficult to say what the state will even be allowed to do by federal government. Now, I wish it weren't that way, I think states should have more power to experiment. I think if you look at the Federalist papers it talks about states as great laboratories of democracy where we could have states that the federal government gives more freedom to use Medicaid money in creative ways and see what state does it best. And after doing that for a while maybe then we can have a federal model that comes after the states or maybe you give the states freedom with that federal money to create a bunch of different systems because it might be what works for Missouri doesn't work for Connecticut, doesn't work for Texas, doesn't work for California. So what I would like to see from the federal government is more flexibility.
Cartmell: If you had that flexibility what would you do with it?
Barnes: Well I think one thing we need to do is get away sort of from command and control type public health care systems and help people enter a market place that is more competitive. The exact parameters of that again are difficult to say because it depends on what the federal government would allow. You could have folks get tax credits for purchasing health insurance, which is in the existing law. You could require certain people that deal with government that takes certain tax credits have you know certain insurance, state insurance. Not state insurance but sort of an exchange type system that if you're going to take advantage of these benefits. Instead what we got in the federal health care law was just a straight mandate no matter what you do, if you're just a living, breathing human being there's a mandate on you to do this and there's a mandate on small employers that if you look at the research of people going out and surveying small employers around the country, they are saying they're going to have a difficult time hiring new people because of these mandates, because of these costs. And I don't think that does anybody any good to have a bunch more people unemployed and unable to afford any type of insurance is not good for health insurance. I mean the goal of the legislation is certainly good, but if you look at the impact and what the studies are saying it's going to do it could be absolutely devastating. So we need to find creative ways in Missouri and elsewhere to change things up a little bit.
Cartmell: In regards to transportation last session, there was a lot of talk about making I-70 a toll road and there are other things to just enhance transportation what is your opinion on some of that?
Barnes: Well transportation is a sticky issue because as fuel standards for automobiles get higher so you get more miles per gallon, and that's a good thing because you save money on gas, we have less money to build safe roads. And so what we see is revenues from gas taxes decrease overtime and our highways are deteriorating as a result, and so we got to come up with alternative ways to fund transportation or we are going to continue to have crumbling infrastructure. MoDot I believe really turned it around in the last seven or eight years, and they've made major improvements and own awards from a number of national organizations to say MoDot is doing a good job with resources they have right now making things work. In terms of a toll road on I-70, certainly a concept I can support. It's got to be structured correctly. I mean I think one idea that was kicking out there were middle lanes for trucks and that would be the toll road; I think that is something certainly worth looking into. I think if you look at other places around the state that could be feasible, that would be something worth looking into. What I can tell you is I am not going to support an increase in the gas tax, but I am in support of other ways to find that transportation funding because just like we talked about with energy, just like we talked with wells, we're talking about an infrastructure investment that doesn't just create jobs today but creates them well into the future by creating a resource that's there that is used by everyone in society to build a better economy.
Cartmell: Last question...what legislation is most important to you?
Barnes: I think two things will be my focus next year. The first is state employee pay raises, which comes through the state budget in making sure that benefits are not cut. My first year I was able to stave off a cut to state employees that would have resulted in over 200 people being laid off here in Cole County and we were able to have state employee benefits not reduced, even though some folks thought about reducing them. Second year, the Governor proposed a 1 percent pay increase. We got it to 2 percent and there were no benefit costs. So we have been successful the past two years. Next year I would like to see another pay increase. We got to get out of 50 out of being ranked 50 out of 50 in the entire country. That is not going to be an easy lift at all. We still likely will have a tough budget climate. I think receipts by the state government are actually looking a little better this year than they have in the past, which is a relief for everyone. So that's issue number one. And issue number two is small modular nuclear reactors in Callaway County. Again, I think this is the biggest economic development project in the history of our state, certainly in the history of mid-Missouri. It could set our economy on a trajectory, the likes of which we have never seen for the next 50 years. I mean we could be the Silicone Valley of small modular nuclear reactors. We could be the research triangle of North Carolina of small modular nuclear reactors. And we've got educational institutions here, Lynn Tech, Lincoln, and of course the University of Missouri and University of Missouri at Rolla that are all within 45 minutes of Callaway County that can be a great source of creating the employees to train employees that those companies need to build these things. Because they are going to need engineers, they are going to need design professionals; they are going to need skilled workers and manufacturing. All of these things, all of these folks can get education at those four educational institutions right here in mid-Missouri where we already have good programs in those areas. So the sky is the limit the small modular nuclear reactor industry.
Cartmell: Well that's all I have to ask for you. So thank you so much.
Barnes: Thank you.