- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 16

Protect checks and balances:

A depressing new survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center finds that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government.

There is strong evidence that some of the civics-challenged 64 percent are in the Missouri Legislature. This year, the Legislature’s Republican majority, either because they don’t understand the system of checks and balances built into the state and federal constitutions, or because they simply don’t like Gov. Jay Nixon, put Amendment 10 on the ballot.

Their argument for it is that the governor sometimes uses his power to withhold spending as a powerful political tool.

Yes, he does. So what? If so-called conservative lawmakers want to keep passing out-of-balance budgets, that’s their business. But the Missouri Constitution requires the governor to step in and fix that problem. That is a check on legislative irresponsibility. Mr. Nixon has used the tools at his disposal to balance budgets that come to him unbalanced. That’s his job.

Missourians should vote no on Amendment 10.

To start, there’s this: Missouri’s budget has been properly balanced by governors of both parties for generations. Unlike the federal government, Missouri can’t spend more than it takes in. The constitution requires it. The governor proposes the budget. The Legislature approves appropriation authority. The governor can then veto specific spending items (the famous “line-item veto”). The governor also can hold back certain amounts to make sure enough money comes in to cover the tab.

The system in Missouri that some Republicans want to change is nearly identical to the system they want the federal government to adopt. It’s hypocrisy of the highest order.

Amendment 10 would change the process from beginning to end, shifting nearly all of the budget responsibility to the Legislature. It’s a naked power grab.

Actually, “it’s more dangerous than that,” Mr. Nixon told us. “This is one of the most important responsibilities of the executive branch. I think it lessens confidence in what has been a strong fiscal management system in the state.”

Don’t want to take the governor’s word for it?

Here’s what Standard and Poor’s, the credit rating agency, says about Amendment 10:

“We believe this amendment could reduce the flexibility to make changes to balance the budget and make the process more difficult. We believe this amendment could potentially weaken the state’s strong governmental framework to make midyear budget adjustments, which in our view, could potentially lower the rating to a level in line with our indicative rating under our state scoring methodology.”

Translation? Kiss Missouri’s AAA credit rating goodbye.

Vote no on Amendment 10. It’s not conservative. It is short-sighted. It’s bad for business. It’s bad for Missouri.


Jefferson City News Tribune, Oct. 17

Sore losers plead voters were ‘misled’:

The vote must stand.

Opponents of a constitutional amendment creating a right to farm have filed a legal challenge to overturn the results of the election on the grounds that voters were “deceived” and “misled.”

We encourage the Supreme Court to make short work of this lawsuit by dismissing it outright.

If a constitutional amendment withstands a recount and is certified, it can be challenged legally on the grounds that it is unconstitutional or amended or repealed by a subsequent constitutional change.

If ballot issues can be undone based on arguments voters were misled, the possibilities for havoc and anarchy are endless.

Arguments that ballot language is vague or misleading must be - and frequently are - challenged in court prior to elections.

Challenges that result in new language after ballots are printed already create turmoil and escalate costs. An argument can be made to move up the deadline for legal challenges to diminish those incidents, but at least the language issues are resolved prior to the vote.

We opposed the Right to Farm amendment because we believe it is unfair to single out one industry - agriculture - as a constitutionally protected class.

The voters decided otherwise. The vote was close, but a simple majority was sufficient for approval.

Were voters misled? Were they deceived? Were they informed? Did proponents “sneak it through,” as often is alleged?

Those are “sour grapes” arguments by sore losers.

“I think that ballot language made all the difference in the election,” said Wes Shoemeyer, president of Missouri’s Food for America, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

That’s his opinion.

We all are permitted, and encouraged, to express our opinions to our elected representatives and, directly, by our votes in local, state and federal elections.

Sometimes we’re on the prevailing side. When we’re not, there’s virtue in being graceful in defeat.


The Joplin Globe, Oct. 15

Confusing and costly:

In the past two legislative sessions, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander has brought legislators proposals for early voting.

Each time they were rejected.

Instead, our legislators are referring to voters a constitutional amendment that would give Missourians three days one week, divided by a weekend in which they can’t vote, then three more days when they could cast a ballot and then several days off before Election Day.

It’s a confusing mess that will also require an additional $2 million in county clerk costs. And those costs have to be approved by legislators before early voting could even happen in the year 2016.

Kander told the Globe that he hopes the language used in this ballot issue was just an “honest mistake.”

“To pass this amendment would make our elections confusing and less secure. It’s a bad idea, and it needs to be defeated at the polls,” Kander said.

We agree with him.

A citizen-led initiative that would have provided six weeks of early voting, including some weekends, did not receive enough signatures to appear on the November ballot. There are claims that legislators hurriedly submitted their proposal to block that initiative.

For some reason, the subject of early voting tends to be politically divisive.

Kander told us that if Amendment 6 is voted down, he will return to the next legislative session hoping that Missouri will adopt no-excuse absentee voting. That way people can vote absentee without being asked any questions or having to prove why they won’t be available on Election Day.

Turn down Amendment 6 so Missouri won’t be saddled for years with something no one really wants.


St. Joseph News-Press, Oct. 16

Progress on defaults critical:

It’s not enough to get our young people enrolled in college. We have to find a way for them to graduate with both a degree and manageable debt.

This focus became more important as student loan defaults climbed in recent years. As some point, the cost of the defaults could bring down the entire credit system that makes college a possibility for millions.

We applaud the recent success of our regional college campuses, Missouri Western State University and Northwest Missouri State University. Both are reporting lower default rates, which translate into better outcomes for students.

At Western, a default rate that had risen to 22.1 percent in 2010 was cut the following year to 16.4 percent - not by accident or luck, but by focused efforts that continue today. Northwest posted a smaller drop, but also an overall lower rate at 9.5 percent.

The national student loan default rate fell from 14.7 percent to 13.7 percent from 2010 to 2011.

“While it’s good news that the default rate decreased from last year, the number of students who default on their federal student loans is still too high,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Some contend the default rate is a reflection of the economy, but that can account for only part of it. We think the bigger issue is students taking on more debt than they reasonably can expect to repay - particularly if they pile on the loans without much thought to a plan for getting employed.

Both of our regional campuses are stressing increased communication with students, on academics and finances. At Western, first-time freshmen are required to attend a debt-management seminar before loans are issued and a follow-up service works to keep borrowers on track with payments.

We also see the importance of matching students with appropriate classes. A News-Press story noted recently the group at greatest risk for student loan defaults is also the group that is struggling most to make satisfactory academic progress.

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