Legislature digging up trouble

Wednesday, March 4, 2009 | 3:25 p.m. CST; updated 12:14 p.m. CDT, Thursday, March 12, 2009

CORRECTION: Last week I wrote that the Columbia City Council has hired a new police chief. That’s wrong. The city manager hires. Council members are prohibited by the City Charter from interfering. You knew that. Karl Skala knew that. Even I knew that. Sorry. And now to this week’s confusions.

The mole in my backyard would do pretty well, I think, in the Missouri legislature. He’d fit in nicely with those other myopic marauders, working mainly in the dark but leaving an ugly trail. Like him, they’re nearly impossible to get rid of, too.

Like my mole, the legislators become more active with the first hints of spring. As the earthworms and the lobbyists begin to stir, so do those who feed on them. The mole’s destructive path was evident when I stepped out the back door Wednesday. The morning Missourian had already shown our rulers at work.

The headline atop Page 1 read “Budget chair seeks freeze in UM funding.” Actually, as the article made clear, Rep. Allen Icet wants to whack $18 million from Gov. Nixon’s university budget. He’d cut the much-needed proposed program to educate more health care providers and spread them into rural corners of the state. I wrote last week that the university’s lobbyist-in-chief would be cozying up to legislative budget-makers. That doesn’t seem to be working.

What may be even worse is Rep. Icet’s plan to take about $50 million in state funds away from the university and fill the hole with money from the federal stimulus. Only last week, in a burst of unintentional candor, one of Rep. Icet’s Republican colleagues described a similar idea as a “shell game.”

A shell game, of course, is a form of trickery, the object of which is to deceive the sucker into parting from his money. It’s immoral and, in most jurisdictions, illegal. In this context, it’s also unwise. For one thing, the feds are likely to notice and to be less than pleased. For another, if the stimulus is going to stimulate, it has to be an add-on to spending rather than just a substitute.

Our sharp-eyed Rep. Chris Kelly – more a ferret than a mole, to stretch the subterranean metaphor – objected. The previous day, Chris had broached a good idea of his own, which was promptly shot down by another mole, I mean Republican.

What Chris wants to do is float a $700 million bond issue to build and maintain higher education facilities across the state. As the Missourian reported Tuesday, he’d ask voters to approve the bonds to replace an earlier issue, authorized when Kit Bond was governor, and to be repaid with the money that’s now going to pay off the earlier issue. So we’d get $700 million in construction and repair while paying no more per year than we are now.

For Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, that’s “generational theft.” Sen. Crowell comes from the same riverside hamlet and the same approach to politics as Rush Limbaugh, who bloviates that he wants to see President Obama’s attempt to resuscitate the economy fail. (Limbaugh, come to think of it, even looks a little like an overfed mole.)

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Capitol, another worthwhile initiative heads nowhere. This is the plan, originally one of the Boy Governor’s best ideas, to expand health insurance coverage to more of the state’s poor. It drew no opposition in a committee hearing Tuesday, but if it clears the Senate it will no doubt die in the same House committee that killed it last year.

The Boy Governor, by the way, is out of the mansion but still in our pockets. We also learned this week that the investigation of the Blunt administration's e-mailing concluded that the governor’s staff violated the state’s public records laws. There  will be no prosecution, though — just a bill to the taxpayers of more than $660,000, most of it for the administration’s defense of the indefensible.

Maybe my mole is best left to his yard, after all. He’ll do less damage there.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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John Schultz March 4, 2009 | 9:10 p.m.

Republicans are not the only legislators calling for the shell games that you decry. I can name at least one Democrat legislator that has said the same thing publicly.

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Nope Don't WAnt to March 5, 2009 | 8:39 a.m.

Once again, the far left liberls in Columbia voice their opinions. Again with the same tired expression, "Republicans bad, Dems good" and resulting to calling Republicans Moles. I must admit, it's much more mature calling them moles than the usual crying that Missouri Dems like to do.

The problem that exists with your Blathering, is where the money for your expansion of programs will come from? You want the taxpayers to pay for this, but have no plans for where it will come from. Thank the dear lord that we have someone like Allen Icet who can think rationally, and have a balanced budget.

If Missouri Democrats would just stop whining, they could get something done. It's no wonder that they lost seats in the senate and made little gains in the house, despite a huge Democratic swing, and despite almost every statewide office being won.

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