GEORGE KENNEDY: GOP ignoring Medicaid expansion benefits while wooing Boeing

Thursday, December 12, 2013 | 4:51 p.m. CST

I’m sure you were delighted, as I was, to see that the Christmas spirit has inspired our governor and legislature to agree on wrapping up a nice present. Too bad the prospective recipient is a hugely profitable, union-busting Fortune 500 company.

Call me Scrooge if you will, but I can’t help contrasting the way the Republicans who control the legislature fell all over themselves to bribe Boeing with their resolute refusal to expand health insurance to the poorest of our fellow Missourians. Gov. Jay Nixon supported both, though he pushed harder for the Boeing deal.

We’re a math-averse society, I know, but this is a tale that must be told with numbers.

The most eye-catching number is the $1.7 billion in state tax credits our rulers have hung on the Christmas tree. That is doubled by $1.8 billion more in local tax credits being offered by St. Louis County, where Boeing is already the largest employer and where the proposed new plant presumably would be located.

(Boeing, by the way, earned a net profit of $3.9 billion last year and is on track to better that this year. The reason it is soliciting states outside of Washington is that the machinists’ union there has balked at company plans to weaken the pension program and limit raises to 1 percent every other year.)

The number that is cited to justify this largesse is 8,000 – the number of jobs Boeing suggests will be created in whichever of the 12 or so competing states offers the biggest bribe. You’ve no doubt noticed that this projection is coming from what you might call an interested party, rather than an independent analyst.

Keeping that number in mind, consider this one: 24,008.

That’s the estimated number of jobs that would have been created in 2014 alone throughout the state by the expansion of Medicaid under the new Affordable Care Act. It’s more than the total employment of the 10 Fortune 500 companies that operate in Missouri, including Boeing. That estimate comes from a report released in November 2012 by MU's Department of Health Management and Informatics and an independent consultant from Virginia. In case you want to read it for yourself, the report is titled “The Economic Impacts of Medicaid Expansion on Missouri.”

The report, which seems to have been ignored by the same legislators who were so eager to buy Boeing’s pitch, included some other numbers that you might have thought worth considering.

For example, $7 billion. That’s the projected increase in labor income by 2020 from all the jobs created by Medicaid expansion.

And $2.3 billion. That’s how much more in local, state and federal taxes would be generated from those jobs and related economic activity. That’s revenue coming in to pay for schools and roads and such, not taxes being given away.

There’s one more number that seems relevant, if not significant to our Republican legislators: 218,165. That’s how many more Missourians would be eligible for coverage if we followed federal guidelines.

You’ll remember, of course, that the federal government is committed by law to pay 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion for the first three years and 90 percent after that.

You’ll also remember that a legislative committee spent a good part of last summer conducting a series of sham public hearings on the Affordable Care Act. I say they were a sham because the overwhelming public response was in favor of expanding coverage. The legislators have chosen to listen instead to proposals that seem intended to tap the federal till without actually covering those 218,165.

In the end, it’s likely that we’ll wind up with no more Boeing jobs, just as we’ll have no more insurance coverage. For one thing, a union leader in St. Louis has committed candor, vowing that his members won’t approve any contract their Seattle colleagues wouldn’t sign. For another, we’re likely to be outbid by the real bottom-feeders. And the state of Washington itself is offering $8.7 billion in tax breaks, reportedly the biggest legal bribe ever.

So this burst of bipartisanship in the interest of corporate welfare will probably leave legislators and the governor reprising a sentiment often expressed at my house when a Christmas gift disappoints: It’s the thought the counts.

I just wish they’d thought more deeply about the numbers.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.

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Ellis Smith December 13, 2013 | 5:38 a.m.

It's my impression that both the present governor and all of the legislators, regardless of party affiliation, are there because they won their last election, suggesting that the majority of their constituents wanted them to represent them.

My further comments concern only Boeing. I have previously pointed out, attached to another article, that it is entirely possible that NEITHER Missouri nor Kansas will be winners in the location contest. Why? Because Boeing already has significant operations in both St. Louis County and Wichita. Obviously, one of Boeing's current purposes is to gain greater geographic diversity.

To some at MU and more generally in Columbia, Boeing may represent the devil incarnate, but to us (MS&T) Boeing is both a good friend and a major employer of our graduates. WE are going to win, George - regardless of whether Boeing increases its presence in Missouri. Here we have yet another example of how little this university "system's" oldest and second-oldest campuses have in common.

Enjoy your weekend, George.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates December 15, 2013 | 1:12 p.m.

I doubt if Mr. Kennedy has a clue of how great a company Boeing is, or the extent of the company, from astronautics to aircraft, and much, much more. When Boeing decides on another state, perhaps Mr. Kennedy can write another opinion piece and explain why that is good for Missouri!

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