GEORGE KENNEDY: The Missouri legislature should be ashamed of itself

Thursday, May 16, 2013 | 4:35 p.m. CDT

Usually, at this time of year, we can contemplate the end of the legislative session and console ourselves with the thought that, however disappointing it was, it could have been worse. This year, I’m not sure how it could have been.

The combination of opportunities missed, problems not addressed and unconstitutional pandering is a trifecta of disaster for a state that’s already burdened with underfunded education, crumbling infrastructure and inadequate social services.

The right-wing ideologists who control both houses of the legislature have served the interests of Rex Sinquefield and the gun lobby while spurning the needs of most of their constituents. As I write on Thursday, they have 24 hours to do further damage.

The single biggest and most painful failure was the Republicans’ refusal even to seriously consider the Medicaid expansion that would have provided medical insurance to a quarter-million low-income Missouri residents, strengthened rural hospitals and added thousands of good jobs.

This refusal came despite the almost unprecedented broad base of support for the expansion that brought together unions and the Chamber of Commerce, health care providers and recipients, insurers and insured. The rationale offered, that we shouldn’t accept 100 percent federal funding for two years because we can’t trust our government to keep its promises beyond that, was specious. The real reason, clearly enough, was the right wing’s visceral opposition to anything emerging from the Obama administration.

Our Sen. Kurt Schaefer, whose hospital-heavy constituency stood to benefit more than most, was among the more vocal opponents.

While ideology explains that missed opportunity, incompetence seems the most plausible explanation for another. That was the idea, long supported by Rep. Chris Kelly and adopted by the Republican speaker of the House, to take advantage of historically low interest rates by selling $1 billion in bonds to pay for construction of badly needed public buildings and repairs of other facilities, including state parks.

The House passed a bill to put the question to a vote of the people, but the Senate was apparently so busy with legislation purporting to nullify federal laws and protecting the ability of factory farms and puppy mills to mistreat animals free of outside interference that its leaders couldn’t find time to consider it. Maybe next year, the majority leader said.

No wonder Chris had a heart attack.

There was time and motivation for both houses to pass and send to Gov. Jay Nixon a bill cutting personal and corporate income taxes. This has been a goal of St. Louis billionaire and generous Republican contributor Rex Sinquefield, who famously celebrated a similar action to our west by declaring that a Kansas-like economic tsunamiwould sweep across the Midwest. Perhaps Mr. Sinquefield and his acolytes in Jefferson City have failed to notice that a national credit rating agency has lowered the Kansas rating because the state now seems unable to meet its obligations.

The legislators’ own researchers estimate that the tax cuts would reduce state revenue by $692 million a year. The nonpartisan Missouri Budget Project puts the eventual cost at $817 million annually. This in a state that at current tax rates can’t fully fund the foundation formula for K-12 education and ranks near the bottom in its support of higher education.

Pure cynicism motivated the passage in both houses of the elimination of a small tax credit for low-income renters, with much of the money redirected to a program for handicapped children. As the Post-Dispatch reported, “Legislative leaders admitted the budget maneuvering was meant to keep Nixon from vetoing the tax credit repeal….”

He vetoed it anyway, explaining that he had been willing to accept the move only in the context of broad reform of the total tax credit program, which now costs the state hundreds of millions every year.

Those of us who aren’t Rex Sinquefield, or factory farmers, or Second Amendment absolutists can only hope that his first veto of the season won’t be his last.

I’ve never been Jay Nixon’s biggest fan. He strikes me as a big man who doesn’t have big ideas. He does have, however, the demonstrated ability to say No. This year, with this legislature, that’s some comfort.

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.

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Skip Yates May 16, 2013 | 5:13 p.m.

George, anything you write, I wonder how far down the paragraphspersonal bias.... I have to read before you say something negative about conservatives or Republicans...and it is never far..... Oh, yes, you are a non-biased journalist.....NOT! Sir, you have no comments about serious issues with the administration on Bengazi, Justice Department issues, etc.... Bad form if you expect some credibility of your editorial musings.... Obviously, in your teachings at MIZZOU, honesty was trumped by personal, wrong-headed, bias....

(Report Comment)
Ken Geringer May 16, 2013 | 5:51 p.m.

Sure the Missouri legislature is nuts. How nuts is the electorate? Will we reelect people that are more concerned that we can own any arms we want, than healthcare for hundreds of thousands of citizens? Do we hold these citizens in such disdain that we will elect those that don't give a damn about them?

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger May 16, 2013 | 6:14 p.m.

Hey Skipper, maybe you should refresh your brain about the definition of an "editorial." Mr. Kennedy offers his opinions on the current legislative session for your consideration, and you can agree or disagree: that's the way it works. As an editorialist, of course he is "biased.". By the way, his subject is the Missouri legislature, not Benghazi, the Justice Department, or the weather in Belize. Please pay attention.

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 16, 2013 | 7:46 p.m.

hank o. - Again, couldn't help it. A comment on K. Geringer's post, totally inaccurate, with a completely false accusation, would be interesting information from one such as yourself. Or did Yates referral to "honesty" put you and Geringer both, out of that conversation?

(Report Comment)
Ken Geringer May 16, 2013 | 8:10 p.m.

f christian,
You make no sense at all. More nonsense than usual. What's inacurate about "The legislature is nuts?" Or maybe "We can't take 2 Biilion next year to spend on healthcare" is not nuts? Or maybe it's "We don't give a damn about these people?"

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 16, 2013 | 8:56 p.m.

k g - A little bit of truth. Not hundreds of thousands, but
Thirty Million Americans will still be uninsured after BOcare is foisted upon us. We (Missourians) can take the billions right now (the liberal dream), promised by the dream liberals now controlling our government tho they don't own a dime of it and don't know where to get it, other than borrow or print it. Those that are trying to avoid the atrocity of this legislation are ones that seriously "give a damn about these people" I doubt the possibility, but you should somehow try to wise up! Hope Mr. O comments before I'm blocked from conversation.

(Report Comment)
hank ottinger May 16, 2013 | 9:42 p.m.

As usual, Mr. Christian seeks to push the conversation to his talking points without reading what's been written. I was simply pointing out to Mr. Yates what an editorial seeks to accomplish, nothing more. If I wanted to debate health care--or anything else that seems to pique Mr. Christian's interest, I would have done so.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates May 16, 2013 | 10:38 p.m.

@Hank: Oh, OK, I'll agree with you a bit.....

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking May 17, 2013 | 3:26 a.m.

"The rationale offered, that we shouldn’t accept 100 percent federal funding for two years because we can’t trust our government to keep its promises beyond that, was specious"

Unfortunately, it's not. We shouldn't be committing ourselves to a large program expansion unless the will is there to raise revenues when the funding responsibility falls to the state. Unlike the fed, Missouri has to balance its budget every year. Where are these funds going to come from if the fed does not in fact fully fund the program after two years?

Maybe something is better than nothing - two years of health care for 250,000 people is good. What happens after that though?


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 17, 2013 | 6:46 a.m.

Funding for public higher education didn't reach its present low state in one or a few legislative sessions, or entirely under legislatures controlled by a single party.

Let's have a truly independent survey of a broad cross-section of Missourians to get THEIR views concerning our primary public state university; THEN let's talk about "what needs to be done."

Am I suggesting the results of such a survey would shock some people? Yes, I most certainly am, and they certainly need to be shocked.

(Report Comment)
frank christian May 17, 2013 | 8:01 a.m.

H. Ottinger - You were asked in my post, to discuss healthcare and honesty. Your answer appears to be, you do not want to do so. Thanks anyway.

(Report Comment)

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