While we’ve been paying attention to politics from the presidential race to the First Ward, with our spare time devoted to basketball, the Cardinals’ unending search for a healthy pitcher and our annual longing for spring, strange and terrible things have been going on down in Jeff City.
With thanks to the reporters who have been watching what we can’t bear to, here’s a quick sampling of the lowlights (and remember, the legislative session still has two months to run):
n You recall, of course, that grand, statewide plan to bolster the education of badly needed health professionals, the plan Gordon Lamb promoted to universal acclaim. Well, it turns out that the acclaim wasn’t shared by the Republicans in control in the House of Representatives. After the Boy Governor recommended only one-third of the $39 million the program would cost, Rep. Allen Icet, who chairs the House Budget Committee, decided even that was too much and whacked it from the budget. MU President Forsee and Columbia’s legislators reportedly are working hard to save at least something.
n And how about Insure Missouri, the plan Gov. Blunt announced with such fanfare last fall? This was to be the way back to health insurance coverage for some — but not all — of the 100,000 or so he cut from the Medicaid rolls a couple of years ago. A bill has been introduced, finally, but it’s far from the Blunt plan. A lame duck governor appears to have little clout even with his fellow not-so-compassionate conservatives.
n If they won’t support their own governor, why would you expect legislative leaders to honor a deal with the university? You wouldn’t? Good thinking. They aren’t. The deal was that the university would make draconian budget cuts and limit tuition increases in exchange for increased state appropriations. The governor recommended a budget increase of 6.1 percent. Rep. Icet and colleagues have cut that to 4.1 percent, which will barely keep up with inflation.
n That brings us to HJR 20. This is a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the growth of the state budget to no more than the inflation rate. The House Budget Committee has recommended passage. This is the conservatives’ classic “starve the beast” approach, ensuring that even in the best of fiscal times, state government will never be able to catch up to our critical needs, such as failing education and collapsing infrastructure.
We shouldn’t despair, though. Our elected leaders aren’t merely a band of naysayers. No, they’ve got room in their hearts for tax breaks for an impressive array of interest groups, including hog feeders, ethanol producers and car buyers. The good news is that this generosity seems too much of a giveaway even for some of the most hard-core budget cutters.
It also remains to be seen whether Budweiser will be named the state’s official beer and whether the ice cream cone will become our state dessert. I’m not betting against either.
Good thing this is an election year. There’s no telling what mischief the legislature would be up to if members weren’t aware that they’ll face the music come fall.