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Columbia Missourian

GEORGE KENNEDY: Don't expect much to change in Missouri legislature

By George Kennedy
January 3, 2013 | 4:33 p.m. CST

We can begin the new year with a sigh of relief — and at least a twinge of apprehension. Our masters in Washington have resolved, if only temporarily, a crisis of their own making. We’re not going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” just yet. But lest we fall prey to euphoria, we must remember that the Missouri legislature convenes Wednesday.

The struggle to come in the city of Jefferson is already taking shape. Jay Nixon, sounding more like a Democrat now that his last gubernatorial campaign is behind him, has come out in favor of expanding Medicaid and against arming teachers. The Republicans, who will control both houses of the legislature with veto-proof majorities, are highly dubious about the former and disturbingly sympathetic to the latter idea.

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One of their top priorities, appropriately skewered by David Rosman on this page Thursday, is a proposed constitutional amendment apparently intended to protect Missouri’s farmers and hunters from the imaginary depredations of the Humane Society and similar agents of the communist conspiracy.

Thursday’s Missourian also carried a report from The Associated Press of a study showing that Missouri is losing about $468 million a year by failing to collect sales taxes on goods purchased on the Internet. The leader of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives immediately responded that his outnumbered troops will try to remedy that situation. Don’t hold your breath.

It might seem like a no-brainer that the legislature should correct a problem that not only deprives our revenue-starved state of vital resources but puts hometown businesses at a competitive disadvantage. Wrong. The Republican leadership is on record as opposing anything that smacks of “tax increase.” No matter that it’s a tax that actually is currently required by law.

David Lieb, who learned his reporting craft on the Missourian and practices it in award-winning style as Jefferson City bureau chief for the AP, wrote an analysis a few days ago that the Columbia Daily Tribune headlined “GOP puts its mark on state after 10 years.”

The mark looks to me a lot like a scar. The wound that keeps on hurting is the refusal, in which our governor has been complicit, to adequately fund even the most important of state services, education.

Here’s David’s summary:

“For starters, taxes are lower – at least for certain businesses. Missouri’s social safety net is smaller. Fewer people receive government-subsidized health care and child care. Funding for colleges has lagged as enrollments have risen. And aid to public schools – though it has grown to new highs – still falls short of what’s recommended by a state formula.

“Although per capita income has risen while Republicans have led the General Assembly, so also has Missouri’s unemployment rate and the number of people in prison. There are fewer restrictions on guns, more constraints on abortion and no longer any limits on campaign contributions.”

Based on that track record, I’m inclined to climb out on a limb and predict that our own version of the Tea Party is unlikely to go along with Gov. Nixon and approve the expansion of Medicaid, despite the evidence that federal financing would lead to a substantial net gain to state revenues and a decrease in state costs. After all, these are the same people who backed the referendum that will result in the federal government setting up the insurance exchange required under Obamacare rather than allowing the state to retain local control of it.

And we shouldn’t be surprised if, this time next year, the hallways of our elementary schools are patrolled by pistol-packing English teachers.

Maybe events will prove me wrong. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I’d be delighted. But I’d also be surprised.

Anyway, Happy New Year.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.