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GEORGE KENNEDY: Legislature's greatest failure is inaction on Medicaid expansion

Thursday, May 15, 2014 | 4:28 p.m. CDT

The Washington commentariat regularly bemoans the failure of Congress to get much done. As Missouri’s 97th General Assembly is demonstrating in its closing hours, however, the public good is sometimes better served by inaction.

Consider what our legislators have perpetrated and what they haven’t, with one day to go in the session.

The signature achievement of the Republican majority, of course, is the income tax cut enacted over Governor Nixon’s veto (with the essential help of a renegade Democrat). It doesn’t look like much of a cut – only half a percentage point on incomes over $9,000. But coupled with the passage this week of a sales tax increase for roads, the net effect is a shift of the tax burden from a modestly progressive levy on incomes to a strongly regressive tax on necessities.

When (and if) the income tax cut is fully implemented, the best estimate is that it will reduce state revenues by something like $800 million. This in a state that is already among the lowest-taxed and lowest-served in the nation. And the higher your income, the greater your benefit. That was the intent, of course.

I submit that this was an action none of us needed and most of us will regret.

As for roads, nobody disputes the need for more funding. It’s just too bad that the majority chose not to require those who actually use the roads the most to pay for their upkeep. At least, the public will get a chance to vote on the sales tax.

A little earlier, disagreement among the Republicans prevented a couple of actions that would have been both stupid and futile. One was the effort that advanced to the hearing stage of impeaching the governor. His most egregious sin, it appeared, was to grant legally married same-sex couples the right to assert that status when paying Missouri taxes. Fortunately for the reputation of the state, the idea of impeachment turned out to be too preposterous for even the legislative leadership.

The other charge down a blind alley was the clearly unconstitutional effort to “nullify” federal gun regulations and penalize officers who seek to enforce them. As I write on Thursday, disagreement between nullifiers in the House and Senate appeared to have thwarted another triumph of ideology over history and common sense.

A rare deal between the ruling GOP and the ragged remnant of Democrats headed off two other ideology-driven proposals. One would have weakened further the already diminished ability of unions to improve pay and working conditions. The other would have imposed a requirement for photo ID for voting, a requirement that would have penalized disproportionately the elderly and Democratic-leaning minorities.

As part of the trade, Republicans were able to erect another impediment to women’s ability to control their own bodies. Barring a veto, we’ll be only the second state (South Dakota is the other) to impose a three-day waiting period for abortions with no exception for cases of rape or incest. Previous restrictions on freedom had already forced all but one abortion provider from the state and required a 24-hour wait, as do 25 other states.

Still, inaction isn’t always preferable. The greatest failure of this General Assembly, one that will damage both the economy of the state and the health of its citizens, was the refusal to accept millions of federal dollars and extend health insurance to thousands of the poorest and sickest Missourians.

The rationale offered was that the national government can’t be trusted to pick up its share of the cost. The real reason, I’m pretty sure, was the same ideology that drove the income tax cut. You might call it trickle-down democracy. Take care of the people at the top, and those at the bottom will somehow take care of themselves. Unfair? Inhumane? Never mind.

Never mind as well the fact that Missouri remains the only state with neither any limits on campaign contributions nor any restrictions on legislators as lobbyists.

Instead, let’s just heave a sigh of relief that the 97th General Assembly, bad as it was, could have been worse.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor for the Missourian. He writes a weekly column.


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Comments

Ellis Smith May 16, 2014 | 6:09 a.m.

George,

Since I no longer have a horse in the race - after having lived in and paid taxes in Missouri for a large segment of my life - perhaps I can claim neutrality for the matters you have discussed.

I agree with you that some of those situations don't make sense, but I'm going to ask the same question I've been asking for quite a while, going back to when I WAS a citizen of the Show-Me state.

Are we to infer that those legislators (all of them, in fact - regardless of party affiliation) weren't elected in fair and open elections? My goodness! Are we also to infer that those who won the elections lied to their constituents as to what they would sponsor in the way of legislation if they were elected? It appears they did not.

Perhaps Missouri should do away with those bothersome elections. Just look at the money you'd save! I realize that saving money in the public domain will be a new and strange concept.

As for the concept of not trusting our federal government for future funding, the federal government has a well established track record of starting things but not financially following through on them. Consider these two words: Pruitt-Igoe. Remember that, George? It happened right there in St. Louis, Missouri, but the entire nation got to see those buildings blow up, on TV network news programs. THAT was impressive! That was also pathetic.

PS: There's sentiment here about initiating a new state revenue stream: opening state-operated drive through wedding chapels at our state's borders (with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and South Dakota)
to profit from our latest marriage laws. :) A buck is a buck.

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy May 16, 2014 | 7:39 a.m.

Ellis --

Sorry you have fled the state. With more thoutful citizens like you, we might get a better class of legislators.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 16, 2014 | 9:13 a.m.

" With more thoutful [sic] citizens like you, we might get a better class of legislators."

Or a better class of Missourian columnists.

I nominate Ellis.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 16, 2014 | 10:00 a.m.

@ George and Michael:

Yes, after 61 years since graduating from high school* (and enrolling in the marvelous public technical institute in Missouri) I relocated (as of 9-15-12) to the state and county of my birth (and of my primary and secondary education), just to a different city than before. I have done so primarily to spend my "declining years" closer to my family.

In NO WAY has my move been to "escape" from Missouri, where I spent more years of my life than any other place. Nor have I stopped building on the two endowments I've established with my alma mater (which by now should be obvious isn't MU).

There could be some confusion on one point: I have WORKED in Canada, the Republic of Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand and Egypt, but I have never RESIDED in those places: my residence at all times was in the United States.

Still, I feel my "overseas" experiences have given me a perspective on certain matters that most American citizens cannot relate to or possibly even imagine.

As for being a columnist, now that I've gotten control of my ribald laughter I will repeat what I said the last time the matter came up (that time from a contributor who lives in Mexico, Missouri). I said I thought the suggestion was a bad idea. I still think so, and someone who no longer resides in either Columbia or Missouri might not even be eligible. Also, I don't see how I could possibly add anything to the expertise that already exists. :)

*- The high school no longer exists. It was torn down years ago to make a huge parking lot for the staff of a private hospital that easily rivals both University of Missouri and University of Iowa's facilities for size and complexity.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 16, 2014 | 11:40 a.m.

Ellis: The only reason I nominated you was I was afraid you'd nominate me first.

I suggest we nominate SkipY, since he doesn't appear to be around right now, and that's ALWAYS the best time to nominate and vote for some poor unsuspecting soul.

I wonder whatever happened to the good Colonel? I kinda liked him........

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 16, 2014 | 12:51 p.m.

Michael:

Colonel Miller was due to have surgery, after which he was going to decide whether or not to continue with his column*. I assume he has long ago made that decision. If so, I would most definitely have made the SAME decision.

*- Private email communication between Miller and Smith: Gyrene to former Army Engineer. I do love them Gyrenes! They don't sit around and whine.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 16, 2014 | 1:32 p.m.

Ellis: I'm really sorry to hear that, and I hope he came through in fine Marine fashion. When he woke up, he may have grimaces and even grunted in pain at times, but I doubt he whined. A whining Marine would be an oxymoron, and the Colonel certainly wasn't a moron although I can't say if he was an oxy.

Of all the Missourian columnists, he was the one who provoked the most comments, most arguments, most "blue" on the computer screen, and most logical presentations....the last, of course, being my own opinion probably not shared by some others.

I have respect a man or woman with solid principles, ones that do not change with whimsy or from day-to-day because their mind and ideals are firmly grounded in decisions made long ago on how he/she would behave for the rest of their life.

Such folks, when asked how they were able to do something difficult, usually reply with something simple yet profound: "Well, I intended to."

(Report Comment)
Joy Mayer May 16, 2014 | 2:30 p.m.

Hi there. To answer your question about Karl Miller ... he took a sabbatical, and we don't expect him to return to regular column writing.

— Joy Mayer, Columbia Missourian

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams May 16, 2014 | 2:49 p.m.

Joy: I hope he is doing well, and I'm really sorry to hear his columnist career is likely over.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 16, 2014 | 3:58 p.m.

Michael:

Not sure, given the site of Karl's operation, whether he would have needed a general anesthetic, thus he might never have needed to awaken. Given an option, he may have wanted to watch.

While there's such a thing as a former Army Engineer (like me), there's no such thing as a FORMER Marine. Those guys are something special. :)

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates May 17, 2014 | 12:37 p.m.

@Michael & Ellis: I'm still around, just haven't seen much to add that you and Ellis had already said. I could be an absentee though, and maybe do as well as that Illinois Senator, what was his name...Obama? But, Ive been busy with my sons, one just left the Army as an Intelligence Officer and heading for grad degree at Washington University or St Louis U..I forget which he decided on. The other son came through enroute to his new job as a Navy flight instructor in Pensacola. So it was nice not to be alone on my farm for a while and even better having free labor for some hard put-off chores. And, I miss Karl also. I will try to get back into the ring, though I've given up on Roseman.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 18, 2014 | 7:56 a.m.

@ Skip Yates:

Good to hear from you. Also good to learn how well your sons are doing. You certainly have reason for pride in their accomplishments.

My youngest granddaughter graduates from a technical institute in Chicago next month with an Associate of Arts degree in digital sound recording, and has been accepted by Webster University* (Webster Groves, St. Louis County) for the fall term to continue her education. She is already working professionally (in Chicago) at "scale," which is very good money for a college student.

Don't give up on Rosman, Skip, there could still be hope.

*- Really cool (urban) campus!

(Report Comment)

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