- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Kansas City Star, Jan. 22

Nixon’s budget proposal spells trouble:

The budget that Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has presented to the General Assembly unfairly places money for Missouri schools squarely in the middle of a power struggle between the governor and the legislature.

Nixon boasted in his State of the State speech Wednesday that he was proposing “record funding for K-12 education,” with a $129 million increase to the funding formula, but that claim is deceptive because all but $50 million of the increase hinges on the legislature expanding Medicaid eligibility limits.

Doing so would make health care affordable for about 300,000 working Missourians and bring a good chunk of federal money to the state. Lawmakers should expand eligibility but likely won’t because of irrational resistance to anything connected to “Obamacare.”

While legislators are wrong to deny health care to thousands of citizens, Nixon’s attempt to force the issue by tying it to education funding is foolish and cynical.

Schools currently receive $490 million less than what the state’s funding formula calls for. Nixon has pledged to fully fund the formula by the end of his term. He won’t get there by playing games with the legislature.

To make matters worse, a change in a law passed last year will force a shift in funding among schools districts, meaning some suburban and rural districts could actually see their funding drop next year if overall education funding increases by only $50 million.

The overarching problem is that Missouri revenues have flatlined. While the state’s budget isn’t as distressed as what Kansas is facing, the current and long-term picture is troubling. Republican lawmakers had no business passing tax cuts last year; their scheduled phase-in beginning in 2017 will cause more problems.

Nixon, a Democrat who is confronted with a huge, veto-proof Republican majority in the legislature, made a plea for bipartisanship and pledged to do his part by consulting with lawmakers more frequently.

Six years into his governorship, that would be a belated but good move. The state is facing big challenges, including funding for highway repairs, which Nixon mentioned in his speech.

Tolls on Interstate 70 are an idea that “deserves serious consideration,” he said. And an increase in the state’s gas tax, at 17 cents a gallon the fifth-lowest in the nation, “deserves a very close look.”

All that is stating the obvious. What Nixon didn’t do, and should have, is pledge to lead a campaign for one or both of those options.

There is plenty of time this session for Nixon and legislative leaders to get together and agree on paths forward. And the highest placed Republican leaders, Tom Dempsey in the Senate and John Diehl in the House, indicated after Nixon’s speech that they would seek to work with the governor.

But Nixon, with his budget, has already set up a clash with the legislature. Besides the K-12 education funding increase, he tied some funding for public colleges and universities to lawmakers’ willingness to expand Medicaid, pass tax amnesty and some other controversial measures. Also in that balance are dental care for adults on Medicaid and higher rates for providers who serve Medicaid patients.

Lawmakers can play the heroes’ role by allocating schools the $129 million they need to avoid layoffs and other harsh measures. But unless they expand Medicaid, they’ll have to cut from somewhere else to help the schools.

With Nixon’s flawed budget and legislative resistance to helping the working poor through Medicaid expansion, the stage is set for a contentious, joyless session of the Missouri legislature.

___

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 22

Missouri losing ground:

During Wednesday’s annual State of the State speech, Gov. Jay Nixon once again made the economic case for expanding Medicaid to about 300,000 working Missourians who make too little to afford health insurance, but too much to get it for free.

This time, the Democratic governor used the words of a health care company CEO - an actual in-the-flesh job creator - to try to persuade the Republicans in the Missouri Legislature who have blocked even a reasonable discussion of the issue. Mr. Nixon quoted from a letter written by Paul Taylor explaining why he was moving jobs from Missouri to Arkansas.

“The reason we are hiring in Arkansas and laying off in Missouri is that Arkansas chose to expand Medicaid … and Missouri did not,” says the letter (which we shared with readers last summer when it was written). “I fear that Missouri will never recover the ground it is now losing statewide as a result of political posturing.”

Mr. Taylor nails Missouri’s new reality, one mostly ignored by Mr. Nixon in his annual speeches to the Legislature, and completely ignored by lawmakers who each year declare economic victory even as the state seems stuck in the mud.

Missouri is losing ground.

It’s true almost everywhere, but nowhere more clearly than in the area of education funding.

On Wednesday, Mr. Nixon touted his plan to put $50 million more into the K-12 schools funding formula, telling lawmakers that he was proposing “record” funding for schools. In his response to Mr. Nixon’s speech, Speaker of the House John Diehl, a Town and Country Republican, used similar words in discussing Republican accomplishments.

Neither man told Missourians the full story: that even with an additional $50 million, Missouri will be underfunding schools by $433 million, according to the law (written and passed by a Republican majority) that describes how much money should go to schools. The “record” funding doesn’t even keep up with inflation.

Last year, Mr. Nixon told lawmakers that he intended to find the money in the budget to fully fund K-12 schools by the end of the session that is now underway. That was a hopeful, but, it now seems, empty promise.

Missouri is losing ground, finding itself near the bottom of rankings by states in numerous measures.

It is losing ground on funding for highways and roads and mass transit, where the governor suggested a “serious” discussion about tolls and gas tax hikes but failed to lay out a vision that builds a strong state.

It is losing ground in its obligation to basic human needs. Lawmakers are trying to make it harder for people to access food stamps and other safety net programs. The governor is cutting state employees who do the hard work of delivering social services, almost bragging about it each year in his State of the State speech.

It is losing ground in health care, as Missouri Republicans fail to follow the leadership shown by members of their party in surrounding states. Expanding Medicaid not only saves lives, it improves the economy because of the influx in federal dollars. It brings new jobs, like the 62 that Mr. Taylor took across Missouri’s southern border.

About the only area where Missouri isn’t losing ground is in the area of corporate welfare. The state hands out tax credits to special interests who line up for them each year during the legislative session. In an almost surreal ending to Mr. Nixon’s speech on Wednesday, a United Auto Workers rally busted out in the House gallery as the governor touted the 5-year-old legislation that gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Ford as an incentive to keep its Claycomo plant open. Union workers whooped and hollered, with a few lawmakers joining in, helping the governor find a passion in his voice so often missing.

Mr. Nixon didn’t mention in his speech that those tax credits were paid for by pension cuts to state employees. The Census Bureau reports that Missouri has the lowest-paid state employees in the nation. Millions for Ford and its shareholders, scraps for public employees.

Missouri passes out tax credits like Halloween candy because the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers are convinced that the economy grows when such incentives are given to developers or big businesses like Ford and Boeing.

If that is the case, where is the payoff?

If tax credits are the magic bullet, why can’t Missouri pay its employees, fund its schools, take care of its needy, rebuild its roads?

In their words, both Mr. Nixon and the Republicans who lead the Legislature understand that the true path to better economic development is an investment in education.

“Better isn’t good enough,” Mr. Nixon said Wednesday. “Our kids deserve the best.”

According to the Census Bureau, Missouri - the 18th most-populous state in the nation - spends less state money on schools than all but 10 other states. Its teachers are underpaid. School districts serving young black children living in poverty are unaccredited.

If that is the “best” Missouri can do, then pity the next generation.

___

The Joplin Globe, Jan. 21

Settlement chump change for Tyson:

Chump change.

That’s our opinion of the approximately $540,000 Tyson Foods agreed to pay the state of Missouri for a fish kill last spring that wiped out more than 100,000 fish in several miles of Clear Creek.

Specifically, Tyson must pay the state $162,898 for natural resource damages and $110,000 in civil penalties. The company will reimburse the Missouri Department of Natural Resources more than $11,000 and the Missouri Department of Conservation more than $36,000. It will be required to donate $10,000 to the James River Basin Partnership, which works to improve waterways in seven Southwest Missouri counties, and pay to replace a bridge over Clear Creek. If the cost of the bridge replacement is less than $210,000, it will donate the rest to the partnership. Tyson also will give an additional $10,000 to the city of Monett.

Tyson, meanwhile, is still facing potential federal criminal penalties for the spill.

For most companies, the fines would add up to a serious penalty and would get their attention.

Tyson is not most companies.

For Tyson, the $540,000 is a drop in the bucket. Last year, the Arkansas company reported sales of $37.6 billion and a net income of $864 million. The cost of wiping out an Ozark stream, then, is not even one-tenth of 1 percent of net income. It’s not even enough to cause the company to round up or round down its net sales figures for the last fiscal year. We get it. The punishment has to fit the crime. We just happen to think an Ozark stream is worth more than a few hundred thousand in civil penalties and the sundry other costs that Tyson officials will certainly not miss and probably not even notice.

Ozark streams are priceless.

Tyson also is unlike most other companies in one other important sense:

It has an ugly history in Missouri.

Specifically, we’re talking about an environmental legacy in Missouri that includes 20 violations of the federal Clean Water Act, which came to a head in 2003. After years of Tyson dumping untreated or poorly treated wastewater from its Sedalia poultry plant, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources cited the company, but the dumping continued. The state filed lawsuits against Tyson, but the dumping continued. The company assured the public and regulators that the illegal discharges had stopped, yet the dumping continued. The feds executed a search warrant, and even then the dumping continued.

Like we said, this is chump change. And we’re the chumps.

___

Jefferson City News-Tribune, Jan. 22

Recreational marijuana points in wrong direction:

To supporters of recreational marijuana use, we pose this question: What is so unsatisfying or unfulfilling about your life that you feel a need to get high?

Proponents are circulating petitions to put marijuana legalization to a statewide in the November 2016 election.

Although we have heard countless responses to our initial question, few answer it directly.

Among the most frequent responses are:

- Marijuana is no worse than alcohol. That’s true. We recall a story last year with the headline: “Alcohol is still the deadliest drug in the United States, and it’s not even close.” Alcohol abuse is a scourge in our society. Consequences include accidents, fatalities, family breakups, job losses, health problems, legal issues and more.

Alcohol prohibition in the United States has been tried; it failed. A comparison to alcohol is not a compelling reason to legalize another mood-altering substance, which experience has shown creates problems and is difficult, if not impossible, to repeal.

- It’s my business if I want to get high; I’m not hurting anyone else. That may be true for a person who lives in a vacuum. Otherwise, it is classic denial.

A person who is impaired cannot be completely involved in activities with a spouse, children or friends. Impaired judgment impedes the ability to follow instructions, interact with co-workers or complete routine tasks.

Getting high is about self, not about others.

Mood-altering substances - alcohol and drugs, both legal and illegal - abound in modern society.

We have no quarrel with the use of drugs, including marijuana, for medicinal purposes, as prescribed by licensed medical professionals.

But we fear we have become not only an over-medicated population, but also an overly self-medicated population.

Why?

Have we become so pessimistic, so defeated and so hopeless that escaping reality through drug and alcohol use has become the go-to coping mechanism?

We all have seen or read science fiction stories where the populace is little more a collection of passive, submissive, drug-addled zombies.

Legalizing recreational marijuana may not create that world, but it brings us another step closer to it.

We prefer a course correction. We believe the healthier, more responsible direction is to approach life with a clear mind, a kind heart and an industrious outlook.


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