JEFFERSON CITY - Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Susan Montee told KOMU 8 News she would like to establish full-time advocates for veterans and the elderly within the lieutenant governor's office if elected.
The lieutenant governor is the state's second-highest ranking executive. According to the lieutenant governor's website, the person who holds this office sits on several boards and commissions, many dealing with economic issues. These groups, including the Board of Fund Commissioners, the Missouri Development Finance Board and the Missouri Housing Development Commission, control a number of tax credits. As part of reporters' interviews with the candidates, KOMU 8 News asked candidates their thoughts about the 2010 Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission Report, which contained several recommendations related to these credits. The lieutenant governor also serves as the chief advocate for the elderly and veterans. Finally, the lieutenant governor presides over the senate, votes to break ties in that chamber and most importantly of all, steps in as governor if the governor is unable to carry out his or her duties.
KOMU: So for starters, during 2010, the tax credit review commission came up with a number of recommendations for Missouri's tax credits, and as Lieutenant Governor, you would sit on a number of commissions that have some control over those tax credits. So what is your overall opinion on the recommendations of that commission?
MONTEE: Well, here's the problem that I have with the way the commission approached everything, and the general approach to tax credits, is that we've looked at, um, the overall picture without starting at the source. When I was state auditor, we looked at the boards and commissions that we're talking about, that the lieutenant governor sits on. And we found some shortcomings in the actual boards and the way they administer the credits, and the way that they award the credits. For example, the first audit that we did of one of these boards that we found some real problems with, a transparency issue, was the MDFB (Missouri Development Finance Board) and the DREAM program. There were recommendations from an outside group, of which cities would receive the DREAM status. By the time that got announced, three of the recommended cities were taken out and replaced by others. We never could figure out where the paper trail lies that made that happen. And we said, "We gotta have a process that people trust, similarly with the MHDC (Missouri Housing Development Commission)." MHDC, when we audited it, we actually had the FBI there investigating allegations of pay to play and other issues.
There's no, no objective criteria for awarding the credits. Which means that, when the tax commission is looking at the credits to determine the effectiveness, they may be looking at credits that never should have been awarded in the first place, or that, a program that may be a good program, has shortcomings in it because of the actual projects. So the first thing I'm going to do is, at the source, where we award out the credits, we have a process that everybody has some confidence in before we look at the actual credits themselves. The other problem that we had with that is, also, in our audits, we found that the real runaway effect of tax credits is due to ineffective information being given to the legislature. When we looked at what they projected the tax credits to be, compared to what they really were, 300 percent off. So, there are broader issues with tax credits than starting at the end and trying to figure out which things to cap. We can't approach it that way. It's shortsighted.
KOMU: I want to spend a couple of minutes talking about those tax credits in particular. One of the commission's recommendations was to lower the jobs threshold for the BUILD program. What are your thoughts on that?
MONTEE: Same thing. If you look at the information that we're using when we give out those credits, we're just all over the board on, on the way that, the approach we use for counting the number of jobs. Especially when you take these credits, and we've got federal credits and we've got state credits at the same time, we're double-counting the jobs related to it. So, I just think that you can't just take each one of these recommendations and look at them singularly and say, "Is this good or is this bad?" You have to first start with better information and people understanding what the credits actually do, and we're just not there. We're just not there.
KOMU: And reducing the value of the MFDB (Missouri Development Finance Board) Infrastructure credit?
MONTEE: Same thing. I mean, you know, it would be fine to go through each one of these recommendations. As a whole, I think the tax commission was a good idea, the tax credit commission. I think they pulled them back in, and they're going to start with them again. But part of the reason that they established the commission was because of the approach that the legislature was taking. You have partisan fighting inside the senate with people who said, "We want to save all of the credits because we're getting pressure from developers and we're getting pressure from everyone to save these credits." And then on the other hand, you had senators who said, "Cut all the credits." And, "We don't want St. Louis to benefit from these." It was because of that partisan problem going on in our legislature that we said, "Okay, let's establish an independent group. And so, I think that the recommendations themselves as a whole should be evaluated, should be looked at. By the way, none of them, very few of them, had any action taken on them. But the reason for doing that was, that whole commission, was because of this problem in the legislature. And what I'm saying is, it's the wrong approach. You have to start at the source first. And when we know that the actual boards and commissions that are administrating (sic) the tax credits are effectively doing their job, then you can look at the credits. Otherwise, you know, it's the cart before the horse.
KOMU: What safeguards would you like to put in place to prevent another situation like Mamtek?
MONTEE: Okay, this is, the problems with Mamtek, and that whole issue, with a perception that the state had signed off on something, and the locals being left holding the bag on something their community can't afford goes back to the information. Our push to create jobs and give out tax credits as our economic development tool is a good one. We have to have other things in place, but now it goes back to the actual information that we're requiring. The criteria that we're setting up. If you don't have objective criteria in place, then each individual project is evaluated on its own. And one person doing an evaluation may be totally different from another person. Things fall through the cracks. If you say anything that is going to get a tax credit has to have some kind of checklist on it, then people that are applying for credits or for some type of assistance from the state, they can know going into it what information they have to supply and what their chances are of getting the credit. But on the same side, on the flip side, in the Department of Economic Development, they'll have a checklist as well, and they'll say, "In order to qualify this project, you have to check this, this, this and this." Since we don't have anything like that in place right now, you know, things like this can happen.
KOMU: Changing gears a little bit, the lieutenant governor is considered the chief advocate for the elderly, so how will you fight financial exploitation of the elderly, either through MOSAFE or other means?
MONTEE: Well, first off, one of the things that I've talked about throughout the campaign is we're going to restructure the office in order to have a full-time person who is a senior advocate and a full-time person who is a veterans' advocate. There's only five positions right now in the lieutenant governor's office. But one of them is the deputy lieutenant governor, one is the chief of staff, you've got a director of administration. So basically, positions that you can fill with political friends, and administrative jobs. One of the things that we're going to do, is we're going to eliminate the deputy lieutenant governor position. I eliminated that as state auditor and did the daily work myself, anyway. Especially in an office like this, it's just an unnecessary part of the office. Certainly, you have to have some administrative help, but we can start by eliminating two of these positions and filling in a senior advocate and a veteran advocate.
Now specifically with the seniors, it's great that we now passed legislation that helps with some of the financial protections for seniors, but it's much broader than that. As state auditor, we looked at the background-checked information and we found where individuals who were disqualified from working in our daycares because they were on the central registry for abuse and neglect, or some other disqualified reason. We just still let them work in our facilities. So there are many, many more issues than financial exploitation that need to be addressed. So what we're going to do, is we put a person in place as the senior advocate. They're going to pull together all the informations (sic) on all of the programs that are available for our seniors. And that would be resources for help if they have been preyed upon financially, or physical neglect. Or, if they need help with figuring out how they get their circuit breaker credit. Or, if they need help because some family member has someone who is entering phases of Alzheimer's. All of these types of resources that we have in place for our seniors, there's going to be like a one-stop information center in our office. Once we've got the database all built up to a point where you can come there for all the information, then we're going to be out and pro-actively educating the public on safeguards available for them.
KOMU: What changes do you want to make to MoRx, if any?
You know, here's what we have with that. We had a program that, you know, has already substantially been changed. When you started with the senior prescription program and then moved into MoRx, you know, you've got these issues with the donut hole and trying to make sure that people were covered. With the Affordable Care Act, there's going to be different issues. So I can't tell you the specifics that are going to be required there, except that I know that it will be different challenges with that program once you overlay the Affordable Care Act.
KOMU: And you alluded to this earlier, but what are your top priorities for helping veterans?
MONTEE: You know, we have a lot of issues when it comes to our veterans. We have had, you know, we have had our Vietnam veterans, and we still have a lot of issues with our veterans from that war. As they are aging, they now not only have veterans' issues that we're dealing with, but also senior issues. But over time, we have recognized those issues and tried to deal with them in a variety of ways. Not effectively on the state level, I will add, because it's still very difficult for our veterans to find places to get help. But now, we've had many, many years where we didn't have combat veterans coming back. Now we have a whole host of problems because of our returning soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq. Physical problems, mental problems, our veterans are overrepresented in the homeless statistics. So it is a problem that we are going to have to face. Especially in a time when we have these tough economic times and we're cutting programs. And every time we cut money that goes into mental health, then we are disproportionately affecting many of our returning veterans as well. So similar to the senior advocacy program we're going to have inside the Lieutenant Governor's office, we're going to have a full-time veterans' advocate. Many of the programs available to our veterans are federal programs, but it is very, very difficult to cut through the red tape. And then there are state programs for help as well, especially when there are gaps there for, in terms of programs available for our veterans. So definitely addressing the mental health aspects, the PTSD, the healthcare aspects of people coming back with horrendous injuries, and then making sure that the programs that we have in place, where we are encouraging our employers to hire veterans are used in a way that makes sure our veterans are able to find work.
KOMU: That's a pretty good segue into my next question. House Bill 1680 passed both chambers and was signed into law this summer. It's more on-the-job training, expanded financial assistance, that sort of thing. How will you help implement that bill?
MONTEE: And see, that's exactly the type of thing that we talk about. If there is a bill passed into law that would help our veterans, or our seniors for that matter, if we've got new legislation that makes a program available that people wouldn't know about, we want to have an ability to get information out and to hook up people who are qualified for some type of a new program with the actual benefits of the program. Right now, there is no place to do that. So when I talk about putting, you know, putting information together, and then going out and doing outreach and education on what benefits are available for our citizens, that's a perfect example. Anything that would pass newly through the legislature, making sure that the public is aware.
KOMU: Do you believe that the current number and resources available to the domestic violence shelters is sufficient?
MONTEE: You know, I don't know truthfully, because it's one of these things that, you know, the domestic violence and the public defender's office, and a number of programs or areas that we have out there and are competing for tough dollars in an economic climate. I think that we always, so if you say, if you have a pool of money that is unending, would you like to put more money into domestic violence? I would say yes. But I think any time that you're trying to stretch your resources, you have to have a balance. I'm a fiscal conservative. I recognize that programs need to be tightened up and made more efficient. And then you try to do more with less. But I also believe that you have to have social programs in place. I think that you have to put resources into areas like domestic violence. And I'm a big proponent of trying to do more things to help women who, certainly have not been treated fairly in our legislative efforts. So as to whether the number that is there, everything has to be worked through a balance with the resources that we have available. So I can't say yes/no, because it's not, it's a zero-sum game.
KOMU: How will your previous experience aid you in the job of lieutenant governor, if elected?
MONTEE: Well, the first thing that you have to recognize is, what is the lieutenant governor supposed to do? And I think we've talked through the specific duties already. We've talked about the tax credit boards, the boards that you serve on, the veterans and the seniors. But the primary responsibility of the lieutenant governor is to be ready to step in and be governor, should the need arise. So I think that the skills that you bring to the lieutenant governor should be the same skills that you would use if you were leading the state. Because of that, I think that our electorate should evaluate our lieutenant governor candidates in the same way that they would evaluate the top of the ticket. If that is done, then the experience that I bring in private sector, as a CPA and an attorney, but then also the years that I spent as state auditor make me particularly well-suited for that. I've touched every aspect of state government. That's why, when we talk about certain programs, I can talk about them in a way that recognizes that you can't go out and advocate on one, on behalf of one program without knowing that it's going to affect other programs. And it's just the balanced viewpoint that I bring in that makes me more suited for that. The other thing about the structure that we have right now is, people have asked me a number of times about whether our governor and our lieutenant governor should run as a team. I think it's definitely something worth talking about because we've seen over the last four years how difficult it is when you have competing ideologies from the governor and the lieutenant governor and we're out trying to put a face on the state that would attract jobs and development into our state. And you can't have the governor out trying to create jobs and the lieutenant governor criticizing that creation because he's looking to take that job. So I think that looking at the lieutenant governor as a team player with the governor is an important thing for people to do as well.
KOMU: Last question: What can you bring to this job that no other candidate has?
MONTEE: Well, I think all the things that I just told you about. I think that I have the technical expertise that gives me much more of a benefit to the boards and commissions the lieutenant governor serves on. I recognize things that aren't being dealt with on those boards and commissions right now. The recommendations that we've had out there for years and years have never been implemented, which means the people sitting, the lieutenant governor that sits on those boards doesn't recognize the importance of the changes that should be made. So I definitely bring a technical expertise that isn't there with any of the other three candidates. I also bring a history of working with all different types of groups. Not just partisan groups, but everyone out there in the community. When I was state auditor, I audited not just state government, but also all of the third and fourth-class counties in this state. Which meant primarily smaller, rural counties. The issues that faced governmental entities like that are not real partisan issues. Everyone is just trying to, you know, get the services that should be provided out to the citizens. Which, if you come in, and you work in a team approach, it meant that I was constantly working with Republicans to try and figure out how to do more with less. The abilities that I bring in recognizing efficiencies and how to create more services with less money is something that no one else brings to this. The way that I approached my office I think is a clear indication of the difference between myself and the current lieutenant governor. The conservativeness that we used in trying to decide what got spent and how we did things, I came in and restructured the auditor's office. We went from four divisions down to three. We made one type of report so that we could cross-train all of our people and have them working in the same way to create new efficiencies. Which meant we put out a record number of audits in my term with less people and less resources. In addition to that, the way that I as an office holder approach public service is a clear difference between the current lieutenant governor. If I had something that was personal business, and I was going to do state business at the same time, to me, that's a personal trip that I did something for the state. That is the total opposite approach of what we've seen out of Peter Kinder. Any time there was a business reason for being somewhere, he paid for it with state resources even though it was a personal trip. There is a mindset that I bring to public service that I think someone who has been in office 20 years has lost. It is something that makes me a better fit for this office, and a better fit to be elected into statewide office.