- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Kansas City Star, Feb. 3

Eric Greitens‘ initial Missouri budget reasonable, with a few glaring exceptions

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens‘ first budget, a $27.6 billion spending blueprint, appears to be a reasonable attempt to match the state’s spending with its slumping revenue.

With a few worrying exceptions.

The budget generally follows the outlines former Gov. Jay Nixon used: give some additional money to elementary and secondary schools, fund a handful of special-interest initiatives, and, above all else, avoid asking for a tax increase.

In announcing the plan, Greitens claimed savings of more than $572 million. Overall spending actually creeps higher, though, from $27.5 billion in the current fiscal year to $27.6 billion next year.

At that, there are cuts and savings. Underpaid state workers are asked to forgo raises. Economic development funds are reduced. There is less money for health and senior services and, surprisingly, a small reduction from last year’s appropriations for the Department of Corrections.

School bus transportation takes a hit. Services for the disabled are reduced, a particularly poor choice that lawmakers should study carefully.

At the same time, mental health spending will get a small boost, as will the state’s Department of Social Services. Medicaid will spend more than $1.7 billion this year just on medicines for patients, an astonishing figure.

There’s money in the budget for an opioid addiction program, rape prevention and implementing the risible voter ID program approved at the ballot box last year. Greitens, to his credit, has also promised to limit special-interest tax credits.

The biggest cut, more than $115 million in the general fund, will hit the state’s public colleges and universities. Higher education is on the hit list in virtually every state because revenues are lower than expected, and Missouri is no exception.

But starving universities will hurt Missouri families, who could face higher tuition costs.

Eventually, it will convince talented Missourians to seek opportunity in other states considered more friendly to technology and research. That, in turn, will make the state less successful.

The biggest problem with the budget, though, is what’s not in it: a plan for addressing the state’s woeful highways and bridges. The can has been firmly kicked down the deteriorating road.

We know: Missourians recoil in horror at higher fuel taxes. At some point, though, someone will need to pay to rebuild some of the country’s busiest thoroughfares. That time is now.

Maybe the governor is waiting on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan. While we’re watching for that, the roads crumble.


The St. Joseph News-Press, Feb. 4

GOP not workers’ enemy

Union leaders are wrong when they suggest Republican legislators in Missouri - and all of the people who put them in office - care nothing about workers’ concerns.

The tug-of-war on display over the last several decades fundamentally is not about support for workers. It is about support for unions, and in particular whether unions should somehow dictate the terms of the workplace for everyone involved.

It has been pointed out, even by union boosters, workers in Missouri still have the right to collectively bargain over wages, safety issues, seniority privileges, benefits and other issues. This will remain true even after the GOP-dominated General Assembly and Republican Gov. Eric Greitens put their stamp on worker rights.

That’s a fair way of putting it: It’s not all a business agenda, but also a workers’ agenda that lawmakers and Greitens are advancing. And without a Democrat in the governor’s office, this means a large part of this agenda will become law.

The centerpiece is legislation that will make Missouri the 28th “right-to-work” state. This has been overwhelming approved in both the House and Senate and sent to Greitens, who could sign it early this week. The measure says workers cannot be required to pay union dues or fees.

While union leaders rail against this idea, you can make the argument right-to-work is hardly the biggest challenge facing unions. Recently it was noted that 50 years ago, more than 1 in 4 Missouri workers belonged to a union. That number was about 1 in 10 last year.

Is this a function of unions becoming less relevant to prospective members, many of whom are younger people just entering the workforce? The unions can point to important roles played in the past in advancing safety and other issues, but are those issues proportionally of the same interest today?

Both political parties can and should agree today’s workers are most in need of career paths - education and job training that align with available jobs, keep pace with changes in technology and ultimately lead to higher paychecks.

Every trend points to workers needing more “portable” skills, because workers are not staying as long with one employer. Also, jobs are changing rapidly, and the job you have 10 years from now may not even exist today. Skills and adaptability take precedence over allegiance to a workplace union.

Republicans who voted for right-to-work are convincing when they state their belief this will help Missouri become more competitive for new employers and jobs. Even without this result guaranteed, it makes sense to give workers more choice.


The Springfield News-Leader, Feb. 4

Don’t govern via social media

Over the past decade, politicians have increasingly found ways to reach voters and constituents through social media.

It’s an easy way for people to stay connected to elected officials, it allows messages to be shared widely and those messages are contained in mostly short, digestible snips.

However, our elected officials are beginning to lean far too much on the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

It’s been a big part of national politics, of course. Donald Trump has earned fans and foes for his seemingly off-the-cuff tweeting.

Social media also took the center stage in Missouri earlier this week when legislators were discussing raises for themselves, leading Gov. Eric Greitens to take to Facebook.

The pay raise debate, in and of itself, was a bit of a show. The Missouri House of Representatives had indicated days earlier that it wouldn’t accept the raise, and senators ultimately voted 25-2 to also decline the increase. It’s hard to imagine legislators would accept a pay increase in this climate of slashed budgets.

Greitens was reportedly active in convincing lawmakers to decline the raise. That action has already earned him praise and criticism.

However, the unnecessary step happened after that, when the governor posted a lengthy message on Facebook that said, in part:

“Politicians in our State Senate spent seven hours debating whether or not to give themselves a pay raise.It was a pathetic display. Seven hours of taxpayer time could have been spent doing just about anything.”

He specifically criticized the two senators who voted for a pay increase. And responded to statements that he’d been too strong-armed in his handling of the situation.

“Will I apologize that we saved taxpayer’s money last night?” he wrote. “No. Many of our public servants in our capitol earned my respect last night as they fought to kill this raise. Others did not.”

The problem here is not the governor’s opposition to the raise, or even his frustration over the lengthy debate. He’s probably right on both those accounts. The problem is that far too much of the pay raise issue was simply political theater.

The use of social media, in addition to being more show than substance, is also far too one-sided.

Early in this term, we’ve heard many statements from the governor, but not enough answers to questions.

Social media too easily allows us to block, ignore or log off from the questions and debates.

Greitens had a thoughtful interview with this editorial board during the campaign. We’ve also heard of good conversations he’s had with others both before and after the election.

We want to see more of that governor - the one who discusses policy, debates pros and cons of solutions to our state’s most pressing issues, and displays the transparency he preaches.

His personality and talking points helped him get elected, but the election is over.

The evaluation of Greitens‘ time in office will come from his dedication to the work, his willingness to answer tough questions and his ability to be better than the dog-and-pony show our government has become.

It’s only been a few weeks, so he has plenty of time to show that side.


The Columbia Daily Tribune, Feb. 6

Travel ban

Among the litany of controversial moves President Donald Trump has launched, his ban on travel from Muslim nations might be the worst. Not only is it unfairly and without justification interfering with the rights and dreams of many immigrants in final stages of arrival into this country, but it threatens U.S.-Iran relations in the vital world of wrestling.

“Vital” might be too strong, but if you are fixated on the sport, particularly Missouri Tigers wrestling, you will notice potential MU-Iranian competition is a big deal. Even an occasional fan can imagine a possible meeting between wrestlers from Iran and the United States head to head in international, even Olympic, warfare on the mat. In particular, you can imagine our own J’den Cox going for the gold against a man from Iran. Cox has elevated our perspective on the sport of wrestling and, now, its implications for international relations in the new world of Trump.

You might think me facetious to liken wrestling with anti-terrorism activities, but wait. It makes sense in my mind to notice in the wrestling fiasco an example of the unexpected consequences of the travel ban.

It sort of boils down to this: Why should happy interactions with foreign countries be unnecessarily damaged for no good reason? If we had proof of Iranian terrorists dressed as aspiring families lined up on our borders, it would be one thing, but Trump’s targeting of Iran and other Muslim nations perhaps bent on exporting terrorists into the United States reveals not a single example from the past.

One would think a sophisticated engineer of “the deal” would know to make his point by announcing “renewed” or “enhanced” vetting of immigrants without so explicitly and gratuitously sticking the national finger in the eyes of other particular nationals.

Hope might be on the way. A federal judge in Seattle has put a nationwide hold on Trump’s seven-nation mistake. U.S. District Judge James Robart granted a temporary restraining order “on a nationwide basis.” But Trump & Co. vow to resist the order and stick with their ban. People waiting in airports don’t know what to do.

I’ve been waiting for the first example of effective pushback against Trump excesses. Maybe this is it.

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