- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 23

Education needs more than $493 million:

It’s Missouri State of the State quiz time. Who said this:

“Now, I am pleased to present my legislative initiatives for better schools, a stronger economy, better health care and other important needs.”

If you guessed Gov. Jay Nixon, the Democrat who gave his sixth State of the State speech on Tuesday (Jan. 21), you would be wrong.

It was Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, giving his first State of the State speech on Jan. 25, 2005.

There is a certain similarity to these things, regardless of who gives them. The governor, regardless of party, says the state of the state is strong, even when it isn’t. He proposes new money for pet projects. Members of his party cheer, and the opposing party sits on its hands.

So it was Tuesday evening, when Mr. Nixon pushed many of the same themes Mr. Blunt pushed in 2005. This time around, Republicans are criticizing the speech as being too heavy on spending. In fact, if the state had invested more over the last eight years, Mr. Nixon might not be trying to address the same old problems. But that would have involved tax increases. And no matter what party a Missouri governor represents, tax increases are bad. Very bad. Worse than perpetual mediocrity.

Mr. Nixon’s biggest and most important promise Tuesday was to get the state about halfway toward fully funding the $600 million shortfall in the formula that determines how much Missouri spends on K-12 education. He wants $278 million more this year and more next year to fill the gap. In all, he wants to spend $493 million on education this year, including K-12, higher education and early childhood education.

Republicans who instinctively call such proposals “big government” spending, as many did Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, need to remember something:

It’s their formula.

In 2005, under the leadership of Mr. Blunt and a Republican-controlled Legislature, lawmakers rewrote the so-called “foundation formula.” Having written it, they proceeded to ignore it. The biggest share of the blame lies with the Great Recession, which robbed all states of needed revenue as the economy contracted. But plenty of blame lies with Mr. Nixon, who appears to be working from Mr. Blunt’s notes when talking about “holding the line on taxes.” The rest of the blame lies with the Republicans in the Legislature who talk about funding education, but talk is as far as it goes.

Mr. Nixon on Tuesday night challenged lawmakers to come up with $278 million more for elementary and secondary schools. The response should have been simple: That’s not good enough.

Unfortunately, they are too stuck in their tax-cut fueled ideological race to the bottom that they can’t see an opportunity to gain the political upper hand.

Nearly everything Mr. Nixon pushed for Tuesday night is right out of the business community’s playbook: a focus on early childhood education, more funding for both local schools and colleges and universities, an expansion of Medicaid that would feed the state’s health care industry with federal dollars and actually save about $94 million in the state’s budget.

These are ideas, that at various times, have been championed by Republican governors such as Mr. Blunt and, before him, John Ashcroft and Christopher “Kit” Bond. More funding for Parents as Teachers? That’s a Republican standing ovation line. Or it used to be anyway. Putting low-wage workers on state Medicaid rolls as called for in the Affordable Care Act? Toward the end of his term, Mr. Blunt proposed nearly the same thing.

The problem in Missouri, besides a partisan divide that leaves us blind to our own state’s history, is that nobody in charge will actually acknowledge the two largest obstacles to fulfilling the bipartisan promise to fund education. One: Missouri is, and has been for decades, among the lowest-taxed states in the nation. Two: Education budgets always come in second to funding corporate tax credits.

Mr. Nixon actually bragged about both of those issues Tuesday night. He said: “Missouri’s a low-tax state - sixth lowest in the nation - and we like it that way.”

No, governor, the school children of the state do not like the fact that its leaders won’t fulfill their promises to them. The working poor of this state do not like being shut out of the health care system or access to food stamps or child care services, or the ability to meet with a social services worker face to face because you keep cutting jobs from the state payroll.

“We all know that if you want to win, you’ve got to compete,” Mr. Nixon said of the failed effort to bribe Boeing to build its new 777X airliner in St. Louis. To “compete” for that business, the Democratic governor and his Republican cohorts promised Boeing up to $2.4 billion in state tax breaks. In a hastily called special session, an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Missouri lawmakers found the will to offer an incredibly profitable company $2.4 billion.

But they won’t fully fund schools for the kids in their communities.

It’s shameful. So pardon us if we don’t stand and applaud at the $493 million in new funding Mr. Nixon promises for students from preschool to graduate school. Yes, the Legislature should fund it. It’s the right thing to do. But unless the state escapes from its status as the sixth lowest-taxed state in the nation, it will be but a drop in the bucket forgotten the next time the economy falters.

Until state lawmakers and the governor can come together to find the full $600 million to fully fund the K-12 formula they are currently shorting, without gutting other strapped state programs, then they are hypocrites of the highest order. They want to be patted on the back for not doing what they were sent to Jefferson City to do.

Here’s the reality: Between 1970 and 2006, Missouri ranked 47th in the nation - that’s fourth-lowest - in combined local and state tax burden, according to the Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Even with full funding today, Missouri’s schoolchildren will get less than most of their peers in other states. With inflation, the money will buy less than it would have two decades ago.

When it comes to competing for the title of a state that truly funds a first-class education for its children, that fulfills the promise the constitution and state statute makes to them, that understands that the best economic development tool is quality schools, Missouri fails miserably.

The numbers don’t lie. Yet every single year, a governor of one party or the other stands before the Legislature and proudly declares himself the latest version of the Education Governor.

Adding $493 million to education funding efforts is a nice gesture.

But it barely even gets us to the starting line.


Southeast Missourian, Jan. 26

Inspecting abortion facilities:

Abortion remains one of the most pertinent morality issues that divides the United States.

More than half of the people polled in this country - 52 percent in 2013 - believe abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances, according to Gallup polls. Twenty-six percent believe it should be legal under any circumstance; and 20 percent believe it should not be legal under any circumstance. To put it another way, about 72 percent of Americans polled believe abortion should be illegal in some form.

However, according to Gallup, only 29 percent believe the U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, Roe v. Wade, should be overturned.

Recently, Cape Girardeau Republican Kathy Swan sponsored a bill - co-sponsored by more than 100 lawmakers - that addresses the inspections of abortion clinics and the definition of “medical emergency” that could “necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert the death of the pregnant woman.”

Swan’s bill would require an abortion facility in Missouri to be inspected at least four times annually.

The bill is seen as a priority for the lobbyist group Missouri Right to Life. The bill’s goal is to impose “stricter inspection requirements and more accountability for abortion clinics,” the lobbying group’s president, Pam Fichter, was quoted as saying in a recent Associated Press article.

According to the AP, Missouri has only one facility performing elective abortions, and that is the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis.

The president and CEO of the facility noted in the article the state already has the ability to inspect the facility as frequently as it chooses without advance notice. Right to Life reported that witnesses have seen 23 instances of ambulances responding to the clinic over four years, the article stated.

According to the AP, an inspection last January showed several findings, including:

- Copious amounts of visible dust/dirt on air vents.

- Some boxes of surgical gloves and three postpartum balloons used to control bleeding had expired.

- Expired drugs on hand, including ammonia inhalant used for fainting, Valium for sedation and a drug used to counter the effects of a narcotic overdose.

These issues were corrected to inspectors’ satisfaction, the story said, at an unannounced inspection several weeks later.

Our view of this legislation is we hope it somehow forwards the objective of respecting life.

Many recall the horror stories of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was found guilty of killing three newborns in a filthy clinic in Philadelphia.

It makes sense that inspections should be routine to prevent such atrocities.

Swan, in a recent interview with the editorial board, said she was trained in nursing and found it troubling the Missouri violations were found. She said the bill is a “proactive” one that will prevent Planned Parenthood from slipping into worse conditions.

Another aspect of Swan’s bill is to remove the threat of suicide as a reason for a medical emergency. If not deemed a medical emergency, women must wait 24 hours after seeing a doctor (a separate bill aims to extend the wait time to 72 hours) to have the abortion.

We understand the bill is being modified to provide suicide counseling. There is no question many women who seek abortions are emotionally distressed when they make the decision to abort. However, such claims could be used to skirt the law.

In general, the bill looks to be a step in the right direction for those who value the lives of the unborn and for the women who have the right to expect safe medical care.


The Joplin Globe, Jan. 24

Military economics:

Recognizing that military spending has a big economic impact on Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon has formed a new partnership aimed at protecting military bases and federal defense dollars in the state.

To that end, he has appointed Clint Zweifel, the state’s treasurer, to gather input. Zweifel, in recent interviews given to The Associated Press, cited a study that shows that the Army’s Fort Leonard Wood, Whiteman Air Force Base and the Missouri National Guard have a combined economic impact of more than $3 billion a year in our state.

The goal - and we think it’s a good one - is to make sure there is not only government support but also support from area business leaders.

We cannot imagine where Joplin and Duquesne would be today if it had not been for the Missouri National Guard’s help after the May 2011 tornado. Members of the Guard literally moved mountains of debris.

But they also play a big role in our economy. That’s why it is important for this state and others to keep an eye on cuts that could be made to defense spending.

Zweifel is touring bases and armories throughout the state and plans to travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and the military. He wants to showcase the effectiveness of the work the military does in Missouri and the number of jobs provided here. His mission, as set out by the governor, is to coordinate this effort through March 31.

By the way, there are more than 275,000 jobs statewide that are the direct or indirect result of defense spending.

In Southwest Missouri, the economic impact is $30 million a year, according to Zweifel’s office.

A proactive effort now is necessary. Not just for the safety of the state, but for those who depend on defense spending for a paycheck.

That number is significant.


Columbia Daily Tribune, Jan. 25

The case for construction bonds:

Gov. Jay Nixon foments a debate with the General Assembly over construction bonds.

His primary capital project is replacement of the outdated Fulton State Hospital, which houses mentally deficient criminals and sex offenders deemed unfit to stand trial. It is the state’s only institution of its kind. Buildings are old and in poor condition.

No serious opposition has arisen to the governor’s priority. Not so regarding his proposed method of financing.

Nixon wants to use “appropriation bonds” not requiring a vote of the people, needing only passage of a $14 million reserve fund and subsequent annual appropriations by the General Assembly to make bond payments.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, both favor the project but not Nixon’s bonding scheme. They are right.

A properly crafted statewide capital improvement plan, which is sorely needed, should be approved by voters authorizing an ongoing plan for retiring bonds. Fulton State Hospital could be a key project, but it’s hardly the only need. We should push ourselves to approve such a measure with Fulton as a primary driver.

For several years now, Kelly, along with Republican co-sponsors, has pushed the bond issue idea. We should not lose another season. The time is right, and the need is acute.

The state is finishing retirement payments of a highly successful $600 million bond issue sponsored by then-Gov. Kit Bond, making room in the budget for another round. Today, years later, Kelly proposes $1.2 billion to make similar progress. Interest rates are historically low, and the recent recession put us woefully behind on a number of public projects, many on college campuses. Construction bonds would underwrite economically stimulating projects all over the state. We can afford the borrowing. I think the public would approve and the legislature should give us a chance.

Even though Nixon prefers a quicker shortcut financing method for the Fulton hospital, he will favor general obligation bonds if that is the legislative decision. Let’s add Fulton’s $198 million and make the omnibus bond issue $1.4 billion. Run the numbers. We can afford it. We can’t afford not to do it.

Bonding without a vote of the people puts no legal obligation on the legislature to make needed annual funds for repayment. If bonds of this type are issued, chances are good lawmakers would appropriate repayment money year after year, but the state is under no legal obligation to do so. Much better to seal the deal with a constitutional amendment.

By all indications, such a bond issue will enjoy strong bipartisan support. Ironically, Nixon’s push for avoiding this step will make contentious opponents in the General Assembly more willing to go for the constitutional method. The iron is hot. Let’s strike.

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