WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri's 12-year funk catches up with it

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 | 12:04 p.m. CDT

Twelve years ago, Democrat Bob Holden won the 2000 Missouri governor's race and immediately got clobbered.

Jobs and industry were abandoning the state. Tax collections lagged almost 50 percent behind what had been projected when the budgets were drawn up. Mr. Holden responded with a call for 18 percent cuts in most agency budgets.

The bleeding continued. Mr. Holden kept cutting budgets. He was succeeded in 2005 by Republican Matt Blunt. He, too, had to cut budgets and declined to run for a second term. In 2008, Democrat Jay Nixon was elected and he's had to cut budgets every year, too. In his current "balanced budget without a single tax increase" re-election campaign, he's been trying to make lemonade out of it.

"We're doing things differently here in Missouri," he said on primary night. "And you know what? It's working."

No, it's not.

The Missouri Budget Project, a think tank, last week published a report called "Cutting to the Chase: What Multi-Year Budget Reductions Mean for Missourians." It reviews the cumulative effects of 12 years of declining state revenues.

The Missouri Budget Project leans to the left, but its numbers don't. There is no such thing as liberal math. Instead, the report is an indictment of Democrats and Republicans alike who, for 12 years, have been doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

In fact, the decline goes back more than 12 years. "Historical data indicates that Missouri's state general revenue spending, as a percent of the economy, is lower today than it was in 1981," the report says. The general revenue fund won't recover its pre-recession purchasing power until 2029.

Some key findings:

—The school foundation formula, used to calculate the state's annual obligation to school districts, is $336 million below its statutorily required level. Missouri ranks 47th among 50 states in percentage of state aid to school districts. There are fewer teachers, fewer school buses, and there is 60 percent less money for Parents as Teachers.

—Missouri ranks 44th among the 50 states in state aid to higher education. In-state tuition to public four-year universities has nearly doubled in the last decade, to an average of $7,033 a year. The 10-year decline in state support is 27 percent.

—State support for community health centers has declined by two-thirds. Medicare eligibility has been cut from 100 percent of federal poverty level to 18 percent of federal poverty level. Nearly one in four Missourians has no access to primary health care.

—Only one in five Missourians with mental health needs gets services.

Many conservatives will no doubt hail these developments. But even if you think poor people deserve lousy educations and health care, consider the business ramifications.

"Economic development, more than ever, depends on a talented workforce," reports the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

A task force appointed by Mr. Nixon recommended in 2010 that the state develop a 21st-century work force for businesses in advanced manufacturing, energy solutions, biosciences, health science and services, information technology and other knowledge-based industries.

If Mr. Nixon, his Republican challenger Dave Spence and Missouri legislators think that budget cuts and slogans are the way to prosperity, there's 12 years of evidence that say they're wrong. Who wants to invest in a state that won't invest in itself? It's time to try something different.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

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Jimmy Bearfield September 25, 2012 | 1:46 p.m.

California "invested" a lot:

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