- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Kansas City Star, April 18

Pass a small fuel tax to invest in Missouri’s roads and bridges:

A big part of Stephen Miller’s job these days is trying to persuade the Missouri General Assembly to spend enough money to maintain the state’s extensive system of roads and bridges.

But Miller, the Kansas City-based chairman of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, is running into roadblocks erected by anti-tax state legislators.

A Senate filibuster has shut down discussion of taking just the Band-Aid approach to more fully caring for this essential infrastructure. That small solution would require approving a 2-cent increase in the state’s gasoline tax, which at 17 cents a gallon is one of the nation’s lowest. It has not gone up in almost two decades.

Some legislators say they don’t want to raise taxes without a vote of the people, especially after they rejected a transportation tax in 2014. Also, too many Republican lawmakers seem determined to stick to their irresponsible pledge to not raise taxes for any reason, even if that eventually punishes the people of Missouri with poorer highways and bridges.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials say they are mired in a full-fledged funding crisis. Within two years, the state could be in position to lose more than $165 million in federal matching transportation revenue, and possibly $400 million annually after that.

Those are tax dollars that Missouri motorists provide Washington through the 18.4-cent federal tax. If Missouri doesn’t have the money to match the funds offered by the U.S. government, that money will go elsewhere. Put simply, Missouri drivers will be paying to fix roads in Kansas, Illinois and other states. That would be an absurd outcome.

Two months ago, in reaction to its fiscal woes, the state agency put in place a plan that will fully maintain just 8,180 miles of the state’s nearly 34,000-mile road system. Only routine maintenance such as snowplowing and pothole repairs will be provided for most of the state’s roads. No major resurfacing or rebuilding will occur. In the Kansas City area that includes large parts of U.S. 40, Missouri 350 and Missouri 152.

In addition, 110 critical bridges will get the state’s full attention, while 481 others will get only routine care.

And for the record, the state won’t be able to dramatically improve Interstate 70.

Some state legislators have said they could avoid the loss of federal funds by stripping tens of millions of dollars out of the general fund to use as Missouri’s match for U.S. dollars. Miller and other highway officials appropriately recoil at that thought, realizing that could pit them against schools, social services and state agencies that depend on the general fund for operating expenses. Plus, diverting general fund money to the transportation department is not a long-term solution.

The best short-term answer is for the legislature to pass the proposed 2-cent gas tax increase. That would raise about $55 million a year for the Department of Transportation.

Other states are acting effectively. Iowa lawmakers had the backbone to pass a 10-cent tax increase, led by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad’s call to invest in infrastructure.

A small fuel tax increase in Missouri would be the first step toward fiscal solvency, though transportation officials acknowledge the agency would soon be back trying to get more.

Eventually, lawmakers and the people of Missouri must decide whether smooth roads and safe bridges are a high priority. But they need to do that before too much damage is done and the repairs become far more costly.

___

The Springfield News Leader, April 9

We will not accept discrimination:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

- “Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham jail

The election is over and we congratulate the candidates who won school board and city positions. To those who did not, we commend you for your effort and your willingness to serve our community.

We cannot, however, congratulate those who voted to repeal a nondiscrimination ordinance our city needs and our community deserves.

While the vote to repeal the nondiscrimination ordinance, expanded last October to include sexual orientation and gender identity, is a win for some, it’s a loss not only for our friends and neighbors, but for our city as a whole. Tuesday’s election result sullies our city’s reputation and is attracting negative attention regionally and nationally, from Los Angeles to Detroit, Washington, D.C. and beyond. We hope the vote doesn’t have unintended economic repercussions.

In spite of the repeal, we believe this polarizing issue accomplished something important for our community: An increased awareness that the discrimination exists, and a realization that individual community members can no longer sit the fence.

You are either OK with discrimination, or you are not.

We are not.

And when you consider the numbers - the slim 3 percent margin by which the vote to repeal won the day - we know many of you are not either.

That’s why we call on the community to stand up for equality and respect the kind of protections the ordinance offered in matters of housing, employment and public accommodation. The ordinance was about so much more than bathrooms and church employment and our community can do better by its citizens, law or no law.

We simply cannot afford to be passive observers when it comes to discrimination, and repealing this law doesn’t empower anyone to deny housing or employment to those in the LGBT community.

Remember, this law was active for only three weeks. Repealing it removes protections that were added but it doesn’t remove the previous status quo. Sexual orientation and gender identity federal protections do exist when it comes to housing, although there is no local authority to handle situations of discrimination.

And the use of bathrooms? It’s already legal to enter either a men’s or woman’s public restroom, regardless of gender, according to City Attorney Dan Wichmer in a previous News-Leader story. Social norms and gender identity generally dictate which restroom people use, whether they are heterosexual, transgender or gay men or women. (Without the ordinance however, a church or business could ask someone to leave its property , where a bathroom is located, for believing a person is in the “wrong” bathroom.)

So what’s next?

Certainly some folks who voted to repeal did so because they fear those who are LGBT, or believe they are sinners who could change. Others who voted against the ordinance - particularly some church leaders, and even some city leaders - said they believed the law was flawed.

We encourage leaders in both ordinance camps to demonstrate that , in spite of the vote, we will be a kind community to all our citizens as we work toward better understanding. And we hope the federal appeals courts system will one day soon create a ruling that makes discrimination illegal everywhere.

Until then, please do not accept discrimination in our community. It isn’t right.

___

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 20

The Legislature is poised to bankrupt Normandy schools again:

For two years the Missouri Legislature has faced a simple choice when it comes to providing access to quality schools for the children of the Normandy school district.

Lawmakers could fix the broken school transfer law that they themselves broke. They could do this by capping the tuition an unaccredited school district must pay to an adjacent, but accredited, school district that accepts a student seeking better opportunity.

Or they could ignore that issue and instead chit-chat about various school reform measures that will do absolutely nothing for those children in north St. Louis County right now.

Lawmakers have chosen to do nothing.

Two years in a row they have chosen to bankrupt the Normandy schools.

This is not an exercise in hypotheticals. It’s a certainty. They know this. Parents, teachers and administrators in Normandy have told them. Superintendents in suburban St. Louis have told them. Experts and lobbyists have told them. The state board of education and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have told them.

After failing to cap the transfer tuition last year, the state in effect dissolved the Normandy school district and reconstituted it as the Normandy Schools Collaborative. Basically they just gave it a new name.

Now, with a further court ruling increasing the number of transfer students and more uncertainty caused at least in part by anemic funding, the renamed school district is headed to bankruptcy.

If lawmakers do not fix the tuition portion of the school transfer law before their session ends in May, next year the Normandy school district will run out of money. It won’t have enough funds to pay tuition for the more than 600 students who have already requested a transfer for the 2015-16 school year.

This is what will happen:

Just days after the Aug. 9 anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, as the nation’s eyes will be turned to St. Louis and Ferguson to see what we have learned in our year of unrest, one of the answers will be that the state has no choice but to close the very school district where Mr. Brown graduated from high school.

The KMOV-TV clip of Mr. Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, when she screamed to anybody who would listen: “Do you know how hard it was for me to get him to stay in school and graduate?” will be played over and over again on late-night cable television as protesters return to the streets. “You know how many black men graduate? Not many.”

That means in 2017, if the Legislature doesn’t add a tuition cap to the competing House and Senate versions of the school transfer bills each chamber has passed, the answer will be zero graduates from Normandy High. The district will be bankrupt.

Why is this happening?

Because some suburban, majority white, school districts in St. Louis and St. Charles counties believe that protecting the whims of taxpayers who paid for a bond issue 20 years ago is more important than educating kids from somewhere else, kids whom lawmakers would rather treat as ghosts.

Make no mistake, there are superintendents and school board members, and maybe even a few lawmakers, in the St. Louis region who want to do the right thing. But there aren’t enough of them. They are afraid of their next election or next job, afraid of being the person who opened the school door to poor, black and possibly under-performing students without soaking the Normandy district for the financial windfall that state law allows.

The status quo in St. Louis is this: Every school district in the region has already agreed to a capped tuition of about $7,000 to take students from the city of St. Louis as part of the voluntary inter-district choice program. That’s been going on for years. The program works. But those same school districts take students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens, charging different amounts for children from each location, and in most cases, charging more than the home district was paying to educate the children in the first place.

In what world does it make sense for Brentwood to charge Normandy $7,236 each to educate its 24 transfer students, and charge $17,650 to educate students from Riverview Gardens who may live just a few blocks from the Normandy kids?

Under what sense of justice is it OK for Clayton, one of the richest districts in the state, to charge $20,576 per transfer student, or for Ladue to charge $14,832, or for St. Charles to charge $14,949?

The Ladue example is particularly worth highlighting. A generation ago, Ms. McSpadden herself was a transfer student. She lived in the city of St. Louis and attended Reed Elementary in Ladue, which was paid about $7,000 a year by the state to educate Ms. McSpadden.

Were he still alive and in high school, Ladue today would charge more than twice that to educate Ms. McSpadden’s son, Michael Brown, all because he lived on the other side of an imaginary city boundary.

That’s highway robbery. It’s criminal. It is a symptom of the deep racial divide that still exists in St. Louis post-Ferguson.

So a few kids move to Kirkwood, or Parkway, or Mehlville or Francis Howell, spread out among several grades, each grade taking in a handful or less. And what happens? The majority-white, financially stable school district pockets thousands of dollars in tuition payments without adding a single new teacher, or buying more books, or adding tutors, or making any changes to their physical plants.

This is happening today and it is precisely what we called it last year: an old-fashioned school lunchroom milk-money shakedown.

The Legislature is poised to allow it to happen again. Normandy will fail. Another generation of poor, black children will be sent to an adjacent school district, maybe Pattonville, maybe University City, maybe Ferguson-Florissant. That school district will immediately join the accreditation watch list and the entire, sick process will begin again.

This is nothing but institutional racism. It is one of the root causes of the Ferguson unrest.

Without action, the Missouri Legislature is going to own this problem.

Without action, another generation of children in St. Louis will be written off.

Cap the transfer tuition. Save Normandy. Anything short of that is a miserable, shameful failure.

___

Columbia Daily Tribune, April 17

Auditor: Nicole Galloway gets a raise:

Gov. Jay Nixon has named Boone County Treasurer Nicole Galloway to succeed Tom Schweich as Missouri state auditor. She will fulfill Schweich’s term and says she will run for election to another term that begins in January 2019.

Galloway has made a recent career as appointee by Nixon to fill out terms of deceased officeholders. She was named by the governor as county treasurer after the death of incumbent Jan Fugit in February 2011. Now Nixon moves Galloway up another step after Schweich’s suicide.

Galloway, a certified public accountant with auditing experience, has made an excellent record so far, earning plaudits from everyone who knows her work. Now, with her assumption of state office, she has a chance to broaden her horizon. By all accounts, her chance for further success is very good.

Her first step will be to make a good record as state auditor, following an incumbent of different demeanor who was making a good record of his own.

Tom Schweich was an independent, tough auditor. Nobody doubted whether he would perform his role with serious energy regardless of the political affiliation of the target. The state auditor has certain duties prescribed by law, but the holder of the office can exude an extralegal aura of determination. Schweich seemed to do that.

Nicole Galloway is thoroughly competent and so far proves to be a great collaborator and a very nice person. To make her best mark as state auditor, she needs to show the degree of toughness the office requires.

Who says a state auditor can’t be as tough as Schweich and as nice as Galloway? Indeed, seems to me a nice person can be an even more effective auditor if she knows her stuff and is willing to rattle bones as needed. I expect Galloway will meet that promise.

The state of Missouri is lucky Nicole Galloway was at the ready and the governor of the state knew of her talents. My only advice, which she surely does not need, is to be as aggressive as Schweich. He was doing it about right.

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