Be grateful for small blessings, my mother used to tell me. It’s advice that has served me well over years at the university. I pass it along as we watch, gratefully, the 2008 legislative session recede in our collective rear view mirror.
This was a session best remembered for what it didn’t do. Oh sure, there were some positives. The biggest positive from Columbia’s perspective, I suppose, was the university budget. Amazingly, the legislature kept its part of the higher-appropriation/campus-cuts bargain. So there’ll be healthy raises for faculty. Staff, like other low-paid state workers, got the short end. Again.
Our fearless legislators also got tough on illegal immigration, though not so tough on the most powerful beneficiaries — the businesses that hire, and often exploit, the illegals. They made the soybean farmers almost as happy as they made the corn farmers last year, by expanding the mandate for farm-grown fuel at the gas and diesel pumps. They also raised the amounts that Medicaid will pay doctors. Coincidentally, all these favored groups are among those that seem likely to take advantage of another upward move, the lifting of the limits on campaign contributions.
So what didn’t they do? The biggest thing was the failure — refusal, really — even to consider the Boy Governor’s plan for expanding health care for the poor. Remember Insure Missouri? It wouldn’t have restored all the coverage the Republicans cut a couple of years ago, but it was a start. It was the most positive idea to come from the governor.
Gov. Blunt, however, quickly found out what being a lame duck means. House Speaker Jetton, perhaps too busy balancing his legislative duties with his other job as paid political consultant to several colleagues, cut him off at the knees, or the billfold. (Later, Speaker Jetton learned the same lesson. The representatives he’ll no longer lead undid the favor to a constituent he slipped past them last term and rescinded the possibility for developers to declare themselves self-governing villages.)
The legislature also chose to spend our tax money providing scholarships to wealthy kids at private colleges rather than funding the university’s carefully crafted plan to increase the supply of healthcare providers in underserved areas of the state. That little beauty was President Gary Forsee’s introduction to just what a steep hill he has to climb if he is to raise the university from its Bottom Three ranking in higher education support.
But inaction can be a good thing. Old people, poor people and believers in participatory democracy can all be glad the bill to make it tougher to vote didn’t reach the governor’s desk. Neither did the latest attempt to restrict abortion rights, though both the leading Republican candidates for governor are urging a special session to revisit that bad idea.
Maybe next year will be better. We know we’ll have a new governor and new leaders in both houses, no matter who wins the election.
And one piece of statesmanship we can all applaud: The ice cream cone is now our state dessert. Long overdue, I’d say.
George Kennedy is former managing editor at the Columbia Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.