Five ideas: Is Obama on the right track with the stimulus package?

Friday, January 30, 2009 | 2:00 p.m. CST

Saving the stimulus package

If this is the first test of Barack Obama's ability to work with both sides of the aisle to address the myriad of problems facing the U.S. today, then it's going to take more time for him to be graded.

After meeting with Republican leaders in the House on Tuesday, the president's $800 billion economic stimulus plan passed on Wednesday without receiving a single Republican vote.

This was only the first official step toward getting the bill passed, and both sides said they expect changes to be made to the bill before it arrives on Obama's desk for final approval.

In its current form, the stimulus package would provide funding for education, give tax rebates to citizens, provide aid to states including Missouri, as Gov. Jay Nixon suggested in his State of the State address, among many other things.

There has been much debate between economists and politicians alike about the best way to boost the collapsing economy. Republicans and conservative columnists have called for more tax cuts, which make up about a third of the current bill, while some economists worry the new spending is being directed to the wrong places.

Everyone, though, agrees that something needs to be done. Action is needed, and the sooner it is taken, the better for the American public.

Are you in favor of adding more tax cuts to the stimulus package? What changes do you think should be made to the bill?

New superintendent

By Sunday, we will learn the names of the final candidates for superintendent of Columbia Public Schools. The Columbia School Board is expected to name two or three finalists from the original 17 candidates.

Phyllis Chase retired from the position in August. The search for a new superintendent is the second since 2003, when Jim Ritter, the current interim superintendent, retired.

This time around the board is seeking the public's input on the final decision by holding separate meetings for the public to meet each candidate. The meetings will take place from 5 to 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday at West Junior High, 401 Clinkscales Road. If there are three finalists, the third meeting will be held Feb. 10.

While the board will ultimately have the final say on who is hired, the public opinion at these meetings will be considered to some extent.

With the current budget squeeze facing the school district, board members have said that the new superintendent will first need to be financially savvy. However, it is hard argue that anything could be more important than a candidate's background in instruction and developing curriculum, which has driven searches in the past.

What skills do you think are most important for the new superintendent? What questions would you like to ask the candidates?

Nixon's higher education dance

A day after his office sent a letter to the University of Missouri System vice president of finance and administration suspending $51.2 million of spending for MU building projects, including the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, Gov. Jay Nixon was on campus Thursday to announce that MU could receive as much as $9 million a year to fund health profession education.

The governor had previously announced that he will ask the General Assembly not to reduce funding for higher education in the coming year despite a budget shortfall.

While officials did not express much surprise at the suspension of the building projects, which were funded with the now dried-up MOHELA funds, the announcement was nonetheless a sudden one, since no previous warnings had been given.

Nixon's new plan, dubbed the Caring for Missourians initiative, would allow the university to hire new faculty, which would in turn allow more students to be accepted into various health-related programs. According to the UM System Web site, 220 qualified applicants to the university's three nursing schools could not be accepted due to space limitations.

Of course, there is the problem of whether or not Nixon will be able to find an extra $9 million in an already-stretched state budget, especially if general higher education funding does not decrease.

So, while this proposal is nice on paper, it will take time to see if it makes it into the state's budget.

Do you think the Caring for Missourians initiative would benefit the state?

Library parking

While the number of people checking out books from the Columbia Public Library continues to grow, the number of parking spaces available has remained the same.

In an effort to find a solution, the library is considering buying land on the corner of North Garth Avenue and Walnut Street from First National Bank to eventually be turned into extra parking space.

While discussions are still in the preliminary stage, it makes sense for the Columbia Library District Board to prepare for the library's continued growth.

In 2007, Boone County residents voted down a 21-cent tax increase that would have financed two new branch libraries, one in Ashland and one at the Boone County Fairgrounds. Seventy-three percent of voters said no to the measure, which many thought increased the previous 29-cent tax by too much.

Should the Columbia board decide it is in favor of buying the property, it would still take months and more approvals to complete the process.

Do you think that the Columbia Library District Board should approve the purchase of the new property?

Blagojevich impeached

After a made-for-television impeachment trial and political circus, Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois Senate on Thursday. It was a unanimous decision.

The now former governor, who was recorded by federal investigators allegedly trying to sell President Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat, took to the talk-show circuit earlier in the week proclaiming his innocence.

He had his helmet-like hairstyle mussed on "The View;" pointed out that, while he had used some unfortunate language in his recorded phone calls, there were no women on the line at the time; and told Barbara Walters that the tapes that led to his federal indictment on corruption charges would eventually prove his innocence.

Then, in a reversal of his previous decision not to appear at his own impeachment trial, Blagojevich spoke to the Senate on Thursday, saying that no one had yet proved he had done anything wrong.

The Senate disagreed, and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn took the oath of office to cheers a short time later, thus ending a political drama befitting Illinois' complicated history.

Do you think the Illinois Senate was right to impeach Blagojevich now or should they have waited to make a decision until after he stood trial in a federal court?

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