- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 24, 2016

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 22

The Obama administration’s new plan to require overtime pay for salaried workers earning up to $47,000 is an understandable but unrealistic reaction to the problem of stagnating wages and a diminishing American middle class. People are working longer hours for comparatively less pay, and something needs to happen to jostle the system back into alignment.

But the tight deadlines to implement the new rules don’t match the reality of the American workplace. The Labor Department plans to double previous income limits on overtime pay and impose new rules on employers as of Dec. 1. Instead of receiving a financial windfall from higher overtime pay, many salaried employees could wind up making less as they go on the time clock.

Americans frustrated by the multimillion-dollar salaries being paid to corporate chief executives might react: Heck yeah, it’s about time they had to share the wealth. But there are thousands of small employers - retailers, nonprofits and, yes, even local newspapers - that simply cannot afford what this policy demands.

The measure comes as President Barack Obama pushes a congressional proposal to gradually increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 from its current federal level of $7.25.

Note the key difference here: He’s not recommending such a drastic increase all at once. He recognizes that American employers couldn’t withstand the shock. Yet his administration seeks to impose draconian rules on overtime pay, giving employers only six months’ advance notice.

The newspaper industry is hardly unbiased on this issue. Across the board, we face a constant struggle to stay in business, whether it’s The New York Times or the Peoria Journal Star. Our staffers push themselves hard, putting in long hours to fulfill a demanding mission that serves a public good.

The National Newspaper Association, like other industry groups, has long embraced the need for salary adjustments on a graduated basis. “The Labor Department failed to do its job for a decade by creating more graduated adjustments that small businesses could live with. Then it decided to try to force the small-business economy to leap the whole chasm in a single bound,” says association President Chip Hutchison, publisher of The Times-Leader in Princeton, Ky.

Under the new rules, the mission will no longer take priority, whether it’s keeping the public informed or performing nonprofit work to house the poor or fight cancer. The time clock will dominate all other considerations. And if employers can’t afford it, they’ll either have to reduce salaried full-time employment or go out of business.

People running, say, fast-food restaurants who make less than the $47,000 threshold could soon have to adjust their résumés. The hours they accept as an investment to attain valuable management experience could soon disappear. The term “hourly employee” will take on a whole new, and not terribly impressive, meaning.

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St. Joseph News-Press, May 21

No matter what you think of the condition of Missouri’s roads and bridges, expect the system to slide deeper into the ditch before state lawmakers do anything to rescue it.

That’s the only conclusion that those dependent on state-maintained highways can arrive at after witnessing yet another session of the Missouri General Assembly in which nothing was done to improve long-term road and bridge funding.

The state Senate was on board with allowing voters to decide on a 5.9-cent-per-gallon tax increase that would have raised $165 million yearly in additional funds for the state Department of Transportation and $71 million more each year for city and county roads.

The state House refused to go along, with Speaker Todd Richardson reporting his majority Republicans make up “a conservative caucus.”

“This is a caucus that has concerns about any kind of tax increase,” Richardson said, according to Missourinet. “The proposal got more traction this year than it’s had in the past. Ultimately, there just wasn’t enough support.”

This situation would be more understandable if there were broad disagreement about whether MoDOT needs more funding. By far, the biggest disagreement is not about the need but rather about from where the money should come.

One idea floated in the House is to use all money currently going to state tax credit programs to fund roads and bridges. Of course, the tax credits targeted at revitalizing inner cities, spurring economic development and supporting low-income housing all would feel this axe - as if roads are the only pressing need in our state.

Tax credits, as we have written before, should be closely scrutinized and frequently audited to ensure they address a valid interest of the state and deliver on that promise. But arbitrarily cutting all credit programs to pay for roads? There is a reason why this idea was not adopted.

Fiscal conservatives do everyone a favor by causing government to justify those expenses put forward as a priority. Having already done that, boosters of investments in roads and bridges look to these same lawmakers for funding solutions that make sense to taxpayers.

On this point, we also note the recent good fortune reported by MoDOT. The agency said short-term funding for transportation - the next five years - has improved enough for it to commit to a more robust plan of road work than in the recent past. It now falls to MoDOT to explain once again why long-term funding is still a critical need.

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Kansas City Star, May 20

Kansas City’s streetcar line is a two-week success story.

More passengers than predicted have piled into the sleek vehicles since they began rolling on their 2.2-mile route along downtown streets on May 6.

Here comes the $200-million-plus question: Should the system be expanded by more than 3.5 miles?

That’s the next, logical step in improving this form of public transit, according to backers. No need to wait a year or two to see whether the initial blush of excitement wears off. They appear ready to pounce soon and seek federal and local funds for a bigger project.

We’re not ready to embrace that reasoning, partly because details have not yet been released and - more notably - city officials have not held public meetings to get feedback on the idea.

Any extension depends on a few factors.

- Where will the streetcars travel next, and will nearby residents embrace them?

Voters in 2014 considered a larger system that included a line that basically continued down Main Street, past the current Union Station ending point and toward the Country Club Plaza and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

That route makes good sense. Voters in the Main Street corridor backed the 2014 plan, which included two new routes on the East Side. But voters in that part of town sank the overall proposal.

In the near future, business leaders and residents along Main Street presumably will have more to say about any extension. They now have a much better idea of the construction-related problems the streetcars can create - but also the potential foot traffic and passenger convenience they can bring.

- Who will pay for a bigger system?

Streetcar backers used a controversial, limited ballot election to get access to millions in local property and sales tax dollars for the downtown spine. They could try that approach again. Or they could ask a wider audience to back the extension.

The financing proposal needs to be sensible and realistic. People may love the free rides on the streetcar right now. That doesn’t necessarily mean Midtown and Plaza area businesses and residents are willing to pay for a bigger system.

Getting access to federal funds obviously would boost the project’s chances of success. Mayor Sly James and others will have to be on top of that priority.

Many Kansas Citians have turned from early doubters into supporters of the current streetcar line. A well-conceived plan to extend it might make a great deal of sense.

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Jefferson City News Tribune, May 22

Home is associated with comfort, warmth, security, belonging, love and more.

Sadly, more than 13,500 children is Missouri are unable to make that association. As part of the foster care system, a lack of foster families and foster homes relegates these children to residential care facilities.

During May’s observance of Foster Care Month, area foster families and supporters gathered Wednesday for the first “Light the Way” event, designed to raise awareness of the plight of foster children.

The event - which featured the release of 130 lighted balloons, each symbolizing 100 children in the system - was sponsored by the Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association.

Becoming a foster parent requires an uncommon commitment. Among the precipitants in the event was foster parent Karen Ryals, who said: “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

Recognizing the commitment to become a foster parent may seem daunting, CMFCAA Director DeAnna Alonso suggests participation in respite care as a gradual introduction to the process.

“It’s short-term care, and it provides a glimpse of foster children and the trauma they’ve experienced,” Alonso said. The trauma may include exposure to substance abuse, poverty, abuse or neglect. “One way you can help the most is giving them the opportunity to play and have fun, and give an opportunity for foster parents to take a break “

Tim Decker, director of Missouri’s Children’s Division, acknowledged the process of placement and/or adoption can be lengthy, but the rewards are great for both foster parents and children.

“The way hope is provided is to show them through love and relationships,” he said. “It’s something we can only show them by taking a personal interest in that child and what they’re interested in. It’s something we can only do by making personal sacrifices.”

More than 13,500 Missouri children are awaiting foster parents willing to make personal sacrifice, share their homes and offer comfort, security and love.

Participating in respite care is an ideal way to learn more about the responsibilities and rewards of “the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

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