Jay Nixon’s latest budget presentation and State of the State address say two things about Missouri’s governor:
• He is a good manager and an even better politician.
• He is determined to play it safe, even when he shouldn’t.
Nixon’s proposed budget for next year reduces expenses by $508 million in ways designed to produce as little uproar as possible.
His administration found $192 million in savings in the Medicaid program through smart measures such as more use of generic drugs, rebates from pharmaceutical manufacturers and more efficient management of chronic conditions.
But the state’s colleges and universities absorb a body blow. Nixon calls for a drastic 12.5 percent cut to each school’s budget, marking the third straight year that the chronically underfunded institutions would lose money.
On the plus side, Nixon’s budget avoids cutting funds for elementary and secondary schools. And it includes a 2 percent salary increase for state employees, who have gone three years without a raise.
Overall, it is a safe, damage-control budget designed to get Missouri through one more rocky fiscal year.
About the boldest theme Nixon advanced in his speech was a call for the legislature to pass a bill demanding more accountability from charter schools.
Nixon, who is well-positioned for re-election, could have done some long-term good by endorsing a proposed ballot initiative to increase the state’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax. He could have promoted legislation to bring in revenue by collecting sales taxes from Internet purchases.
Instead, the governor boasted in his speech that he has never sought a tax increase. He condescendingly instructed colleges and universities to “cut overhead and administrative costs,” refusing to acknowledge that the schools have been doing that for years.
Missouri will get by on Nixon’s proposed budget, and chances are the governor’s political career will prosper. But some of the state’s most valuable investments are increasingly at risk while the governor plays it safe.
Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.