MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
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Lawmakers grill Missouri’s health director about SynCare [Entered: 11/10/2011]
By Jenner Smith [Email: JJSR4C@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 913-220-5700 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
The Missouri Department of Health’s director dodged legislators’ questions Thursday [Nov. 10] about what her department is doing to assure home health care for the state’s elderly.
Health department director Margaret Donnelly told the House of Representatives Government Oversight Committee that more than 1,000 Missouri critical-needs patients are still awaiting a decision on whether Medicare will provide in-home services.
The backlog of cases began after the state contracted with a private firm, SynCare, to certify whether applicants were eligible for home services to avoid being placed in institutions like nursing homes.
The contract with SynCare was terminated, and the health department took over responsibility for evaluating the applicants.
A few weeks ago, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said that the department had not cleared the backlog and that the agency’s inaction was endangering the lives of Missouri’s elderly.
Top officials of the department have refused repeated requests for interviews.
At Thursday’s [Nov. 10] hearing, Donnelly said the state is considering contracting another third-party assessor to get rid of the backlog.
A lobbyist for the Missouri Council for In-Home Services, Scott Penman, disagrees with the proposal.
“The concept is not workable,” Penman said. “I don’t think we need another trial balloon affecting our senior citizens and disabled population who are trying to stay at home to maybe see if another company just doesn’t screw it up as badly.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey stormed out of the hearing in frustration after Donnelly dodged 11 of his repeated questions on what penalty was imposed on the state’s former third-party assessor.
“SynCare didn’t perform as promised,” Donnelly said.
Following the hearing, Donnelly refused to answer reporter questions.
Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SYNCRE.HTM]
State agency billed for governor’s personal travel aide [Entered: 11/09/2011]
By Elizabeth Hagedorn [Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell: 314-913-0639 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
Key Missouri lawmakers question whether the salary for Gov. Jay Nixon’s personal travel aide violated state budget restrictions, The Associated Press reports.
State records show Nixon aide Jeff Gettys as an employee in the governor’s office beginning in October. But state flight records obtained by The Associated Press show he regularly traveled with the governor as early as July. During this time, Gettys was still on the payroll of the state Department of Economic Development.
Some lawmakers say this arrangement violates Missouri budget restrictions that prohibit state agencies from paying the governor’s travel or staffing expenses.
But Scott Holste, a spokesman for the Nixon administration, said Wednesday [Nov. 9] that he didn’t believe that Gettys’ employment violated state law.
“That period before he came on the payroll when he was traveling with the governor, I would best describe that as a period of transition — of moving him into the governor’s office and doing some of the logistical and operational support,” Holste told the AP.
Last year, lawmakers imposed restrictions on the governor’s budget after it was revealed Nixon had billed other agencies for his state airplane flights and the salaries of some of his aides since he first took office in January 2009.
House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, told The Associated Press this is “another instance of the governor trying to hide staff.”
Gettys traveled with Nixon on 34 of 40 flights from July 6 to Oct. 12, according to state flight records. These records make no mention of the Department of Economic Development for many of the flights.
Department of Economic Development spokesman John Fougere said that Gettys traveled with Nixon because his work “related to inter-departmental efforts on a variety of issues.”
MoDOT proposes tolls on I-70 [Entered: 11/10/2011]
By Rebecca May [Email: RJMN69@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 314-369-2949 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
The Missouri Department of Transportation is proposing to put tolls on I-70 to improve the highway.
Chief engineer David Nichols said collecting a toll important for more than maintenance of the highway but to fund additional projects, such as an additional lane dedicated for trucks or an additional lane for cars only.
The transportation department has been planning this proposal for a couple of years and plans to present it in January for the regular legislative session.
House Republican Floor Leader Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the issue will be brought to the table.
House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, said Missourians should be able to drive freely on their roads, and if the proposal were to pass it would start a trickle-down effect.
“Once you start at I-70 it will then begin to trickle down to like I-40 and other roads. It’s just the wrong decision and the wrong time for our state to do it,” said Schoeller.
Highway congestion is behind the need for tolls, according to MoDOT. Nichols said the current budget covers road maintenance on the existing roads.
Get the radio story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/I70.HTM ]
Get the text story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/TOLLS.HTM ]
Missouri’s SEC move prompts inquiry from state legislature’s budget chairman [Entered: 11/07/2011]
By Stephanie Ebbs
The chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee said Monday [Nov. 7] that he has questions about who will cover the costs for the University of Missouri’s move from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference for sporting events.
Citing a confidential source, The Associated Press reported that MU could be on the hook for paying $26 million to the Big 12 as a penalty for leaving the conference.
“I’ve sent some questions to the university folks and have been looking into whether or not alumni could be made to cover the costs,” said Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.
Silvey said he hopes the university will pay for the exit fees through alumni donations and other sources of revenue rather than taxpayer dollars.
Other legislative budget leaders expressed little concern about impact of the cost on the state budget.
“We don’t know how much it will be, but we know where it will be paid
from,” said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia. “And we know, more importantly
from the point of view of the taxpayer, where it won’t be paid from. It
won’t be paid from tuition nor will it be paid from state dollars.”
Gov. Jay Nixon declined to comment on the issue and directed all questions to his spokesman, Scott Holste, who also declined to answer questions.
Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SECFINE.HTM].
Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SEC.HTM].
State programs help to find jobs for returning Missouri National Guard members [Entered: 11/10/2011]
By Jessi Turnure [Email: email@example.com, Cell: 314-780-1078 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
Missouri’s Department of Economic Development, Division of Workforce Development and Missouri National Guard are confident their job-placement programs will help the 30 Missouri National Guard troops returning home by Christmas to find employment.
Economic development department spokesman John Fougere said the Show-Me Heroes program asks businesses to pledge first priority for job openings to veterans. Since the Show-Me Heroes program began in January 2010, 1,400 businesses have taken the pledge and 300 veterans have been hired.
Lt. Col. Alan Rohlfing also works with the Division of Workforce Development to help veterans through the Show-Me Heroes program. Rohlfing said he is confident the program will give job-seekers the attention and help they need to guarantee employment.
The economic development department also has 43 career centers that Rohlfing and his division closely work with. The centers assist troops by matching them with jobs in which they can apply their specific skills, supplying regular seminars and workshops and maintaining a veteran staff that eases the connection between job-seeker and available jobs.
Get the radio stories [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MOHOME.HTM ].
House speaker drops out of race for Missouri lieutenant governor [Entered: 11/10/2011]
By Matt Evans [Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell: 660-525-1313 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, announced Thursday [Nov. 10] he was dropping out of the race for lieutenant governor.
With nearly $600,000 already in his campaign fund, Tilley said he wanted to drop out of the election to spend more time with his children.
“It was a personal decision that I just didn’t have the fire in the belly that I wanted to,” Tilley said. “It’s been a decision I’ve been struggling with for about five months.”
The 40-year-old Tilley said he has no plans to run for public office again but will finish out his term as speaker of the House, which ends January 2013.
“I’m going to be just a normal private citizen, and I look forward to it,” said Tilley.
Tilley also said he wants to spend more time with his two daughters, who are 15 and 17.
Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, a member of Tilley’s caucus, supported his decision.
“He thinks it’s the right thing for him. It’s kind of a life decision,” Zerr said. “He does want to spend time with his kids, and I have to respect that. I didn’t run for this office until my kids were grown, and I did that by design.”
House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, echoed that sentiment.
“I think for Speaker Tilley and his family that he’s made the right decision,” Schoeller said. “Certainly, I’m going to miss having him being on the ticket. We were looking forward to his leadership in that candidacy for lieutenant governor, but you always have to put family first. He’s done that today and I admire him for doing it.”
Tilley said he looks forward to continuing his optometry practice.
Get the radio story. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/TILLEYLG.HTM ]
Moberly’s decision not to pay back municipal bond is unusual move, expert says [Entered: 11/10/2011]
By Tong Gao [Email: email@example.com, Cell: 573-864-3323 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
Missouri cities and counties have borrowed more than $10 billion to support new businesses in the past seven years, yet risks of municipal bonds were not considered serious until Mamtek failed to pay.
Moberly borrowed $39 million in municipal bonds for Mamtek. Now that the project failed, the Moberly City Council voted not to pay the $3.2 million missed payment for Mamtek.
Stuart Haynes, an associate at Missouri Municipal League, said Mamtek is the first municipal bond failure to his knowledge.
“That’s a pretty unusual situation to where the bonds were not paid back,” Haynes said.
Although the debt is not the city’s legal obligation, default on the municipal bonds could lower the city’s credit rating and increase future borrowing costs. Mamtek’s default on its bond payment has degraded Moberly’s credit rating from A- to CC, which could increase future borrowing costs.
Missouri voters might have chance to legalize marijuana [Entered: 11/08/2011]
By Matt Evans [Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Cell: 660-525-1313 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has approved two initiative petitions to legalize marijuana in Missouri, giving the petitioners permission to gather the signatures necessary to put the issue on the 2012 ballot.
The initiatives aim to legalize marijuana for all individuals 21 or older and make medicinal marijuana available to those under 21.
One of the advocates gathering the required 150,000 signatures is Dan Viets. He’s the lead man for Columbia-based Show-Me-Cannabis.
“People are very happy to know that this effort is underway,” Viets said. “We’ve gotten calls from people all over the state — people we’ve never heard from before. So there’s a great deal of enthusiasm.”
Not sharing the enthusiasm is Rep. Brent Lasater, R-Independence, a member of the House of Representatives’ crime committee. He said Viets’ initiatives cannot pass.
“Well, when it comes to drugs, I don’t think we need to be playing with fire,” Lasater said. “And that’s exactly what we’d be doing, no matter how innocent it looks.”
Viets said the petitioners don’t need the legislature’s approval and instead are going straight to the voters.
“We’re going around the legislature,” Viets said. “They have a conservative legislative body. We’re tired of dealing with those guys. They have been absolutely worthless in making any progressive changes.”
Lasater said going around a law-making body isn’t the best way to make a law.
“It’s wrong. You need to go through the process that was put there for a reason,” Lasater said.
Author of Missouri’s tax-limit Hancock Amendment dies [Entered: 11/07/2011]
By Phill Brooks [Email: email@example.com, Cell: 573-353-7525 – Please remove contact info. if published.]
The author of Missouri’s constitutional amendment restricting the growth of state taxes died Sunday [Nov. 6]. He was 82.
In 1980, Mel Hancock organized and led a statewide campaign to add to the state’s constitution a restriction on the financial growth of the government.
Mr. Hancock’s amendment was approved by state voters that November. It imposed a limit on the growth of state revenues and prohibits the state from imposing new financial obligations on local government without compensation.
In 1988, he was elected to Congress for the first of four terms, and he vowed not to serve more than four terms.
In the late 1990s, Missouri returned millions of dollars to taxpayers as a result of this Hancock “lid.”
Although factors in the Hancock Amendment setting that lid have made it unlikely it will trigger special refunds anytime in the future, Mr. Hancock’s restriction on imposing additional financial obligations on local government continues to be a constraint on the state.
Mel Hancock’s Legacy [Entered: 11/11/2011]
By Phill Brooks
It would be difficult to exaggerate the legacy to Missouri of Mel Hancock, who died Sunday [Nov. 6] at the age of 82. In many ways, the Springfield businessman and congressman was Missouri’s first tea party member.
Three decades ago, he was the leader of the state’s anti-tax movement that won voter approval for a constitutional amendment on how much money the state can spend. The anti-tax sentiment that his proposal ignited among voters led politicians to adopt even deeper cuts in Missouri’s tax base.
Just as great a legacy is how his original proposal changed the relationship between the state and the local communities.
Hancock led the successful 1980 petition campaign to impose a revenue limit on state government. His Hancock Amendment limits how much revenue the state can raise and spend and forces the state to refund excesses back to taxpayers.
In the early years, that limit triggered nearly $1 billion in tax refunds. Later changes in tax rates and the economy made the original Hancock “lid” largely irrelevant. It likely will be a generation or more before Missouri exceeds that limit again.
But in political reaction to the anti-tax sentiment Hancock’s petition campaign had demonstrated, the state’s governor and legislature passed a sweeping package of tax cuts that constrain the state’s budget to this day.
The tax cuts were adopted at a time when state revenues were increasing at an unusually high rate. So, supporters argued, the state could afford the cuts.
There were a few who warned that it would be a mistake to base tax policy on short-term trends — that for every boom cycle in tax collections there follows a bust. But in the aftermath of the Hancock Amendment, political pressures to cut taxes were too great.
The warnings of those few critics have proved to be true. Missouri now suffers from a bust cycle for tax collections. Taxes are growing at a far lower rate than the growth of the demands for state spending.
For example, in the past few years the shortfall in state revenues has prevented the legislature from providing local public schools with the minimum amount of state funds required by state law. Effectively, the state’s system for funding local schools is illegal because of the disconnect between state spending demands and the state’s tax base.
Missouri’s current revenue problems should not have been a surprise for state policy leaders.
Not too many years after the state adopted those post-Hancock tax cuts, a former state budget official gave talks warning about the disconnect. The warnings, and a later formal report, came from Jim Moody. Now a leading lobbyist, Moody had been a top administration official in the state.
In what became known in the statehouse as the Moody Report, he warned that those post-Hancock tax cuts had ended Missouri’s ability to finance, on a long-term basis, “the basic functions of government” that are defined by law.
To this day, Moody stresses he was not necessarily suggesting tax increases but rather that the state’s budget obligations need be brought into line with long-term tax-collection realities — a task yet to be accomplished.
The other legacy Hancock left for Missouri involves local government.
Hancock feared that with his cap on state revenues, state politicians would respond by imposing greater demands on towns, counties and other local governments to provide expanded services that the state could not afford.
So Hancock included a provision in his constitutional amendment that requires the state to cover the costs of any new obligation the state imposes on local government. The legislature cannot even give county officials a pay raise without footing the bill.
No longer was the state of Missouri the complete boss over local government. The Hancock Amendment has handed to towns and counties a level of independence that likely was unforeseen by the framers of Missouri’s constitution.
I cannot finish this column without expressing my personal fondness for Hancock. He was outspoken, candid, blunt and always accessible — the ideal news source for a reporter.
But there’s more than that to my fondness for him. Unlike some of the other political figures I have covered, Hancock never seemed to take tough questions personally. And, believe me, we had some pretty tough interviews.
No matter how hard I might have been in an interview, afterward he always made it clear that he understood my professional obligations to ask the tough questions. Actually, I think he enjoyed the verbal sparring.
That will be my lasting memory of Hancock — his passion and eagerness to debate the issues about which he felt so deeply.
As always, let me know (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know, and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]