- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The St. Joseph News-Press, Nov. 11

Plug leak in roads budget

Paying for upkeep of Missouri’s roads and bridges is a big enough challenge without having to contend with road money being diverted to other uses.

Exhibit A: Funding for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Recent reporting from The Associated Press in Jefferson City has uncovered two disturbing developments, one of which highlights a problem with the patrol’s funding that has festered for years.

The AP noted revenue generated by an amendment approved by voters in 2004 has not met projections. Proceeds from vehicle sales tax receipts have not kept pace with bond payments required for hundreds of road and bridge projects.

To cover the shortfalls, hundreds of millions of dollars have been drawn out of regular road maintenance and improvement funds.

Separately, the AP found spending on highway patrol operations has spiked sharply since the amendment was approved. The amendment placed new limits on diverting road funds to other uses, but it made an exception for the highway patrol. In retrospect, this must seem a regrettable decision.

In the 12 years after the amendment was approved, diversions of road fund dollars to the patrol’s budget have soared - from $133 million in 2005 to $230 million in 2017. That’s an increase of 73 percent. Today, more than 70 percent of the patrol’s budget is funded from road money.

Much of the spending has gone to make patrol salaries more competitive with the state’s metro police departments. However, other road funds have paid for a new statewide radio communications system, crime lab functions and replacement of vehicles.

“The idea was to increase money for transportation, not necessarily to increase funding for the highway patrol,” recalled Ray McCarty, executive director of the Missouri Transportation Development Council and president and CEO of Associated Industries of Missouri.

That was McCarty’s idea, and it likely was the vision of most voters who approved the amendment by a nearly 8-to-2 margin.

This issue has been raised before, and it deserves a fresh look.

We understand the highway patrol’s budget is reviewed by lawmakers during the normal budget cycle. But clearly this oversight has not been enough to restrain growth that is siphoning away money badly needed to maintain and improve our highway system.

We also would argue that the highway patrol is a provision of state government - not unlike education, prisons and health services. It should have to justify its funding the way any other agency does, and be funded through the state’s general revenues.

This holds the potential to make the patrol more accountable for its spending decisions. And beyond that, it most certainly would free up more money for fixing our roads.


The Kansas City Star, Nov. 9

Gov. Eric Greitens is failing Missouri on the opioid epidemic

If you are a Missourian struggling with an opioid addiction, the state’s top officials have been doing a fine job of raising awareness about your plight.

Summits are being held around the state. All of the governor’s cabinet heads have been ordered to seek out ways to tackle this crisis.

Missouri even played a role when President Donald Trump formally declared the epidemic a public health emergency.

But Missouri still has not implemented the preventive measures employed by every other state. Gov. Eric Greitens has failed to lead on this issue, and now the ramifications are becoming increasingly apparent.

Instead of pressuring the legislature to authorize a statewide database to flag prescription drug abuse, Greitens opted for a half measure. He issued an executive order in July creating a prescription drug monitoring program and then awarded a no-bid contract to a St. Louis-based company that gave $10,000 to his inaugural.

Express Scripts intends to develop a database that can help identify doctors who might over-prescribe or are addicted themselves. Left out is an essential component to track patients who are addicted and need help.

Lawmakers have rightly questioned the freebie to Express Scripts, pointing out the lack of legislative oversight. And months later, the contract has failed to materialize, still held up in negotiations.

Meanwhile, people are dying. Last year, 908 deaths in Missouri were opioid-related.

Missouri is still the only state in the nation without a statewide prescription drug monitoring program that allows doctors and pharmacists to access a database that helps flag patients who might be pill shopping. Overblown concerns about privacy and political stalemates have stalled multiple legislative proposals.

Instead, we have a county-by-county system that was cobbled together when local politicians grew tired of the General Assembly’s dawdling.

Every facet of life in Missouri has been affected by opioid addictions. Employers struggle with lost labor; schools must help children with addicted parents; hospitals treat overdoses; and police track illicit drug sales.

Many who are concerned about this issue were present Thursday as Randall Williams, director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, attended a summit in Kansas City. It’s fair to say multitudes of Missourians are highly engaged, determined to save people from their addictions.

The failure, though, is Greitens’. Instead of leading the charge for needed legislation, the governor opted for a limited program and gave the still-unsigned deal to his political donor.


The Joplin Globe, Nov. 11

Our view: Empire plans a giant stride forward

Empire District Electric Co.’s proposal to shut down its Asbury coal-fired power plant in 2019 and invest in an additional 800 megawatts of wind generation, preferably in Southwest Missouri, is welcome news.

The Joplin-based utility is planning a $1.5 billion investment that is sure to have a profound impact on the region should wind prove viable around here.

The Asbury plant has long been one of the area’s top sources of pollutants, and while the utility has worked aggressively to bring emissions down, most recently with a $112 million investment for a new air pollution control system, the reality is that while there may be “cleaner” coal, there is nothing that rivals wind for being clean.

In 2016, the plant still generated more than 61,000 pounds of chemical waste, including sulfuric acid, barium, ammonia, etc., according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Not everyone will welcome the hundreds of gigantic wind towers, and there will be some job shuffling for the 55 people who work at Asbury versus the 40-45 jobs that will be created by the wind, but we think the trade-offs are worth it.

Evan Vaughan, spokesman for the American Wind Energy Association, said advances in technology have resulted in longer blades and taller towers providing access to winds at higher elevation and that makes wind farms viable today in many other places besides the Great Plains, including Missouri.

“Turbines work well with rural pursuits, whether it’s ranching or farming,” he said. “Wind power is turning into a real economic success story in the rural communities where it has been developed.”

There remains concern over the impact wind farms may have on bird and bat populations, and we are not in a position to put either at risk.

“Nearly a third of our birds in the United States are in trouble and declining,” according to Michael Hutchins, with the American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Program that challenges utilities to do site studies and take other steps to mitigate the impact on birds and bats, which Empire is doing.

Bats are in worse shape, and he said wind turbines are the second biggest killer of bats today, behind white-nose syndrome.

Some studies put the number of birds and bats killed each year by wind farms in the hundreds of of thousands, but others have found that the number of birds and bats killed each year by wind farms is much lower than the number killed by coal-fired power plants. Much more needs to be learned.

But in the meanwhile, we already know that coal plants have contributed much to our nation’s water pollution problems, and that currently, sensitive populations of people, such as pregnant women and women of childbearing age, are advised to limit their consumption of numerous species of fish from lakes and rivers in Missouri and elsewhere in the country because of mercury contamination.

We know this change won’t be impact-free.

Nothing is.

On balance, though, this is a giant stride forward, economically and environmentally.

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