The Associated Press
The Kansas City Star, Jan. 13
Second term poses big test for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon
In his successful campaign for a second term, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon boasted about “getting things done.”
Under his leadership, the state had cut government spending, his ads noted. It had rebounded from natural disasters. His administration had produced four balanced budgets with no tax increases.
That’s a solid enough resume, but hardly the stuff of greatness.
Candidate Nixon, a Democrat, talked a lot about hunting and fishing. He steered clear of any discussion about applying the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act in Missouri. He rarely, if ever, mentioned his party affiliation.
Nixon campaigned the way he had governed — avoiding hard issues, playing it safe.
He wouldn’t even offer a glimmer of support for a ballot initiative to raise Missouri’s 17-cents-a-pack cigarette tax, by far the lowest of any state. The governor said nary a word as the attempt to improve the state’s health and finances narrowly went down in a blaze of deception, stoked by convenience store and off-brand cigarette lobbyists.
Playing it safe has gotten Nixon elected four times as state attorney general and twice as governor in an increasingly Republican state.
But it won’t cement his legacy. And it won’t help Missouri, or its schools, or the citizens who need a hand up if they are to compete and even survive in an increasingly mean environment.
In his second term, which begins with his swearing in and inauguration ceremonies today, Nixon needs to step up.
Fortunately, there are signs that he is ready to do that.
A few weeks after he easily beat Republican businessman Dave Spence, Nixon announced that his 2014 budget would include federal money to vastly expand the state’s Medicaid program.
That is the right move. Missouri’s Medicaid limits, slashed by Nixon’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, are among the lowest in the nation.
A working parent can earn no more than 19 percent of the poverty level — an annual pay of just more than $4,000 for a family of four — to qualify for the state’s health insurance program.
Nixon had pledged to raise the limits in his first campaign, and tried to do so in his first year as governor. But irrational Republican opposition derailed his efforts.
Republican lawmakers will continue to oppose Medicaid expansion, even though expanding eligibility as called for in the federal Affordable Care Act would help as many as 300,000 Missourians secure health insurance, act as an economic engine and free up millions of dollars in expenses the state now pays for health care.
Helping low-income Missourians obtain financial and medical security through health insurance plans would be an achievement for which a governor would be remembered. The extent to which he is willing to fight for a Medicaid expansion will be a test of Nixon’s mettle, and will shape his legacy.
Nixon also has been sending out encouraging signals that he intends to become more of an education governor in his second term. Last week he proposed increasing the minimum school year by six days. He is also calling for increased funding for preschool education, and for money for college scholarships. All are excellent moves.
Nixon also must find a way to increase Missouri’s unacceptably low funding levels for its colleges and universities.
As he begins what probably will be his final term in a Missouri statewide office, speculation abounds about Nixon’s future. He could run for a U.S. Senate seat. His success as a Democrat in a Republican state sometimes gets him mentioned as a prospect for a national ticket.
But Nixon has gone as far as he can with the play-it-safe strategy. He needs to go big. The future of the state which he has served for most of his adult life depends on it.
Jefferson City News Tribune, Jan. 13
Who should pay costs to improve transportation?
Although a blue ribbon typically signifies a winner, the Blue Ribbon Citizens Committee on Missouri’s Transportation Needs failed to identifying a winning funding source for its ambitious proposal.
The 22-member panel last week released a voluminous report that recommends Missouri allocate up to $1 billion more each year to its transportation system, which includes roads, bridges, rail, ports and public transportation.
Where will those hundreds of millions of dollars come from?
The report reads: “The committee makes no recommendation regarding which way is best, but merely wants to state the options …”
The list includes: general fund revenues; bonding, tolling and/or public private partnerships; sales tax; fuel tax; license and registration fees; vehicle mile tax; and transportation districts.
Those funding options generally fall into two separate categories — everyone pays or users pay.
Everyone pays when, for example, the general fund or sales taxes finance transportation. The rationale is everyone benefits from the safe and efficient flow of traffic and commerce.
Toll roads, fuel taxes and license and registration fees are among examples where users pay for transportation improvements. The rationale is users who cause deterioration or wear and tear on the system should pay for maintenance and improvements.
Under Missouri’s existing financing method, users largely pay for the transportation system, funded primarily by state fuel taxes, part of a state sales tax on vehicles and federal money raised by the federal government’s tax on fuels.
Some local projects are public-private partnerships, including toll operations, and Transportation Development Districts that collect local sales taxes.
Does Missouri seek added revenues from users, switch the burden to everyone or propose some combination of both? Or is the status quo — characterized as maintenance mode — sufficient?
The problems and the options are hardly new.
The $1 billion need and the various options of paying for it all have been discussed before, by transportation agency officials and lawmakers.
Our state senator, Republican Mike Kehoe, suggests bringing key stakeholders together to refine recommendations and “see if there is a coordinated plan” voters will accept.
What would you accept?
St. Joseph News-Press, Jan. 12
Medicaid ball now in GOP’s court
Republicans in the Missouri General Assembly have their wake-up call: Put forward a better argument for opposing an expansion of Medicaid, or risk the scorn of all voters who desire to pay less and receive more in the way of government services.
Or, in the alternative: Make a pragmatic decision to expand the Medicaid rolls even though this has the taint of appearing to support President Obama’s health care overhaul.
This is not an easy decision for conservative leaders who want smaller government, fewer people on public assistance and larger influence in the halls of Jefferson City and Washington. But we suspect this same group also wants to be known for making logical, thoughtful decisions that improve the lives of citizens.
Sometimes what is needed is the fiscal equivalent of tough love. Unemployment benefits can run only so long, then even the unemployed have to accept what life has dealt them. Similar positions on a range of other issues are both defensible and honorable.
This instance appears different. As three studies and numerous advocacy groups have noted, the proposed expansion of the Medicaid rolls would be heavily financed by the federal government — 100 percent in the first three years and never less than 90 percent thereafter.
States that participate will have healthier families, lower health care costs impacting everyone, and a ripple of other economic benefits. None of these good outcomes will flow to those states that opt out.
The estimates vary, but a moderate projection holds that 218,000 Missourians would gain access to medical insurance through this change allowing participants to earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. With that level currently at $23,050 for a family of four, it’s clear the challenges these families have in obtaining affordable insurance.
Under the unpopular federal health care act that now is the law of the land, Missouri hospitals stand to lose about $3.3 billion in federal reimbursements over the next seven years. However, if the state expands Medicaid coverage, it is projected to receive an additional $8.2 billion from the government in roughly the same period.
The most conservative study presented so far projects an additional 24,000 new jobs would be created in the state, due to this infusion of economic support. The new payrolls would total nearly $7 billion and there would be a $16 billion total impact on the state’s economy. Tax revenues to the state would increase by more than $850 million.
It’s also notable that rural areas of the state, due to their lower household incomes, would see some of the largest positive impacts.
Give supporters of this change, including Gov. Jay Nixon, their due: They have brought forward compelling arguments. The state GOP leadership must now either offer a substantive rebuttal or close ranks with those advocating for expanded health coverage that makes sense financially for the state.
The Springfield News-Leader, Jan. 9
Take action, state lawmakers, on Right to Work laws, tax credits, Medicaid
The new Missouri legislative session started this week, with local lawmakers proposing a variety of measures.
After too many years of gridlock, there are promises of action. We will be watching closely to see if they produce — and if what they produce promises to be good for Missouri.
At the top of many lawmakers’ agendas is Right to Work legislation. While we question whether the state should move all the way to Right to Work, which would allow employees in union shops to gain the benefits of collective bargaining without having to pay union dues, we are interested in what Rep. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, calls “Right to Work lite.” Austin and another Springfield Republican, Rep. Eric Burlison, have sponsored Paycheck Protection legislation, which prohibits unions from using dues for political purposes without permission from workers. It’s worth watching.
We strongly support tax credit reform, especially the return of benevolent tax credits. Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, and Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, are pushing to separate benevolent credits from the more controversial economic development tax credits, a move we think has merit.
But we are also interested in learning more about economic development credits, which have been successfully used in Springfield. Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, favors capping the total amount of credits available, as well as “sunsetting” credits.
We agree with Rep. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, who pointed out that economic development credits should not be vilified without recognizing the good they can do for communities and the state.
The legislature will have plenty to consider regarding the issues surrounding Obamacare. Expanding Medicaid is one of the most controversial, with opponents warning that the money promised by the federal government to support the expansion will eventually dry up, leaving the state with the bill. Proponents, however, bemoan passing up federal funds and the possible positive impact the money could have on our state’s economy.
We would encourage legislators concerned about financing to consider a small increase in the tobacco tax since Missouri’s tax is lowest in the country.
This area’s one Democrat in the House, Charlie Norr of north Springfield, has named early childhood education and development as one of his priorities. We agree but share concerns that limited funds not be siphoned from elementary and secondary education.
There is much more work to do. Let’s hope the legislature can work together to get it done this year.