Missouri legislators take themselves ever so seriously. But they are, as a group, an unserious body.
How else to explain another session ending without a jobs plan or a strategy for funding transportation projects? How else to explain a legislature that allowed bountiful debate time for a host of preposterous gun-rights bills but never got around to seriously discussing Medicaid reform and expansion?
“I believe the General Assembly is no longer capable of dealing with tough issues,” Sen. Brad Lager, a Republican from Savannah, said Friday as the 2013 session ground to a close.
He is right. Showboating and political pandering have supplanted accomplishment in the Missouri legislature.
By not seriously considering Medicaid expansion, Republicans passed up the chance to help 260,000 low-income working Missourians, turned away $1.8 billion in federal money for next year’s budget and scoffed at an opportunity to create thousands of jobs. More thoughtful Republican-controlled state legislatures used expansion as a chance to change Medicaid in ways that should result in healthier citizens. Missouri didn’t even get around to appointing a study committee, but it should.
Business and political leaders in Kansas City are still waiting for legislative tools to either compete against Kansas in the economic development “border war” or, even better, declare a truce.
A job-creating bond issue for construction and repair of public buildings proved too complex for the Missouri Senate. So did an overhaul of the state’s criminal statutes.
Proposals to clean up Missouri’s tawdry political culture with limits on campaign contributions and curbs on lobbyist spending went nowhere. Gov. Jay Nixon should carry through on the pledge he made in his State-of-the-State address to lead a movement for a ballot initiative on ethics reform.
While neglecting important business, lawmakers entertained one gun proposal after another. They passed legislation declaring federal gun laws unenforceable in Missouri, lowering the age for legal concealed carry from 21 to 19 and allowing schools to designate employees who are permitted to carry weapons.
The legislature couldn’t get around to revamping tax credit programs, which drain millions of dollars from the state treasury. But Republicans imitated Kansas by cutting income taxes without a way to offset the losses. Their bill, if it becomes law, would take as much as $817 million a year from a state that cheats its own school financing formula.
By the end of the session, lawmakers and the governor were feuding over whether to take money away from low-income renters or disabled children. A state that backs itself into that corner cannot afford to be giving away money in income tax cuts.
The session drew to a merciful close on Friday, with legislative leaders boasting about all they’d accomplished.
Their expectations are low. It was a productive session for gun owners and wealthy individuals who would benefit from income tax cuts. For most everybody else, the session was a bust.
Missouri deserves better than what it gets from this legislature.
Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.