MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
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Headline: A note from Phill [Entered: 11/30/2012]
Just a heads up that next week will be our last MPANews for the year. The week of Dec. 10, my reporters are in finals and will be heading back home as the week progresses. So I’m not sure how much news we will generate. It tends to be a slow period in the statehouse anyway. We’ll have news that week. And, if you need another column from me, let me know. Otherwise, we’ll be back the week of Jan. 7, 2013 when the legislative session begins.
I wanted to pass along a reminder that you’re welcome to use as much of this report, any of our stories or any other information on MDN as you want without further permission.
But please remember that the students who produce the report use some of these stories in their portfolios. If you use the stories, be sure to include the students’ bylines. It really means a lot to them. They’re a really dedicated group in trying to help MPA newspapers as best they can. Feedback and bylines boost their morale tremendously.
The students’ contact information is included in case you have something to add or if you need something clarified. We provide that information for your convenience, and request that it not be published.
Next January, I’ll resume the mid-week memos about the various MDN services, starting with our story-budgeting system that provides an automatic way to send comments and inquiries to us.
Also, remember to let us know if you would like us to do a special report for you about an issue affecting your area of the state or your legislators. NO CHARGE! It looks like I’m going to have a huge number of reporters during the 2013 session, so I think I’ll have bodies to meet your specific coverage needs.
Again, the students love feedback and comments on their work! They’re always eager to hear from people working at the newspapers around the state.
Headline: Gov. Nixon voices support for Medicaid expansion [Entered: 11/29/2012]
By Matt Evans and By Eric Stoyanov and By Nick Thompson
Gov. Jay Nixon announced his support for expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under the new federal health care law.
But his proposal for one of the state’s largest Medicaid expansions in history came under immediate attack from top Republican leaders.
At a series of news conferences across the state, Nixon pointed to the federal law that would provide full federal funding for the health care coverage of up to 300,000 recipients for the first three years.
After that, however, the state would have to begin picking up a part of the expense at a cost to the state’s budget estimated to exceed $100 million per year.
Republican critics, including the House Speaker and lieutenant governor, argued the state could not afford that cost. Nixon, however cited a University of Missouri study that predicts more than 24,000 jobs can be created in 2014 if the state takes part in the expansion.
While Republicans criticized Nixon’s welfare expansion proposal, a slight opening emerged for agreement.
The Republican-leaning Missouri Chamber of Commerce endorsed the expansion, and the Senate’s Appropriations Committee chair said he wanted to wait on a decision until he got more information from the administration.
“We support the expansion,” chamber spokeswomen Karen Buschmann said. “While we do not support the Affordable Care Act, we are supporting this expansion as part of it. It is the law of the land. We do not feel that we should leave the federal money on the table.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, states must expand the Medicaid program to cover people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty line. In upholding the federal law, The U.S. Supreme Court gave states the option to expand the program or not.
Under the expansion proposal, the federal government would foot the bill of expanding the program for the first three years. In 2017, the state would pay 5 percent of the costs and by 2020 the state would pay up to 10 percent.
“Congress passed it, the President signed it, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it. It is the law of the land,” Nixon said during his series of news conferences in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield.
Nixon’s Republican critics charged the governor was expanding the state’s largest welfare program, which already costs Missouri $8 billion a year.
“Overwhelming majorities of the legislature are opposed to this and will not go along with a gigantic expansion of welfare,” Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said. “I think those that do support it in the legislature are overwhelmingly outnumbered and that it will not come to a vote in either the House or the Senate.”
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, could not be reached for comment but said in a statement that he is concerned where the funding will come from for the Medicaid expansion.
“Now is not the time to put our state on the end of yet another big-government program that will only increase the burden on future taxpayers,” Jones said.
A study commissioned by the Missouri Hospital Association and the Missouri Foundation for Health predicts as many as 220,000 Missourians would be eligible for the expanded program. Other studies, however, project as many as 300,000 people would be eligible in the state.
According to the University of Missouri study, the federal government would pay about $8.2 billion through 2019 while the state would spend about $332.9 million and about $100 million per year after 2019 to cover new enrollees. A report released earlier this week by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Urban Institute projected the federal government’s cost at $17.8 billion and with the state’s share at $1.6 billion from 2013 to 2022.
Missouri hospitals are also advocating for the expansion, citing losses in federal payments that reimburse hospitals serving large numbers of low-income patients.
A provision of the federal health care law cuts Disproportionate Share Hospital Adjustment Payments (DSH) in half by 2020. Those federal payments go to hospitals that treat large numbers of low-income patients without health coverage. Missouri received the seventh highest DSH funding in the country in 2011.
Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association, said Missouri hospitals provide $1 billion worth of uncompensated care in any given year.
Dillon said without the expansion, some Missouri hospitals may suffer when the reimbursement payments are cut. The expansion would allow those low-income patients without insurance to enroll in Medicaid, making DSH payments obsolete.
“If they disappear or are substantially reduced and we don’t see an increase in Medicaid, or folks enrolling in an exchange, the hospital and health care infrastructure in the state will be significantly hurt by this,” Dillon said.
Headline: St. Louis developer takes massive TIF case to state Supreme Court [Entered: 11/28/2012]
By Wes Duplantier
St. Louis-area developer Paul McKee’s three-year fight to get millions of dollars in St. Louis tax credits is now in the hands of Missouri’s Supreme Court.
Four St. Louis residents successfully sued to stop the deal in 2009. They said the credits have not been linked to any specific project. One of the residents, Isiah Hair, said Wednesday, Nov. 28, that McKee has dodged questions about what he wants to build on that land.
“I’m not opposed to development within my community at all,” Hair said. “But what I am opposed to is the method that he’s using to try and build something within my community.”
McKee was present at the Supreme Court for oral arguments Nov. 28, but he did not take questions from reporters.
The Supreme Court gave no indication on when they would rule on the tax credits.
Headline: Transportation committee members say raising taxes may be only way to fix Missouri’s crumbling road systems [Entered: 11/28/2012]
By Alexander Mallin
Transportation committee members say raising taxes may be only way to fix Missouri’s crumbling road systems
By Alex Mallin
The Blue Ribbon Transportation Committee has been meeting across the state since July to discuss fixing the state’s aging highways.
Committee Co-Chair and former state Sen. Bill McKenna said that the Missouri Department of Transportation will need extra revenue before Missourians see safer roads.
“I can’t see increasing money to MoDOT unless it would come from a new source of revenue, which would be new dollars on top of our existing taxes,” McKenna said.
MoDOT Chief Financial Officer Roberta Broeker said Missouri’s gasoline and license taxes haven’t risen in 20 years and the state ranks 41st in the nation in terms of revenue per mile of road.
Committee member and president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce Dan Mehan said taxpayers will have to foot the bill for their roads to improve.
“I think that Missourians will trade some sort of a tax increase somewhere in the future if and only if they trust where it’s going,” Mehan said.
Missourians may not, however, be receptive to a tax increase. Voters have rejected a tobacco tax increase three times in the last decade.
Headline: “Fiscal cliff” could lead to less revenue for Missouri [Entered: 11/28/2012]
By Brendan Cullerton
“Fiscal cliff” could lead to less revenue for Missouri
By Brendan Cullerton
How the federal government handles the upcoming “fiscal cliff” scenario could have major implications for Missouri revenue.
Without action by the federal government, the tax cuts of former President George W. Bush will expire on Jan. 1, 2013. This expiration would raise the federal income tax rate if Congress cannot come to an agreement before the new year.
Missouri allows a six percent tax deduction on state income taxes for any federal taxes paid, with a limit of $5,000. If people have to pay more in federal taxes because of higher tax rates, then the state tax deduction could be higher, costing Missouri revenue.
Legislators agreed that if the state revenue fell, education funding would take the biggest hit.
“It could be a significant number,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. “I mean 6 percent of a large number can be a very large number.”
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Missouri is one of few states that allow such a deduction, and that puts the state at a disadvantage.
State budget director Linda Luebbering said other factors, like an increase in state gross domestic income, could offset any revenue loss caused by a rise in federal income tax.
Headline: House Republicans to revisit legislation on ethics reform [Entered: 11/30/2012]
By Alexander Mallin
House Speaker Tim Jones. R-St. Louis County, announced plans to introduce legislation regarding ethics reformation.
Jones said in a statement that his plan would enhance the level of transparency in the political process and ensure accountability from public servants.
Ethics reform legislation was last passed in the 2010 legislative session, but that bill was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court on procedural grounds.
On Tuesday (Nov. 27), Democrats, including Rep. Kevin McManus D-Kansas City, held a press conference on legislation they plan to introduce regarding campaign finance reform.
McManus said the bill is largely modeled after the 2010 efforts but includes caps on campaign contribution limits and lobbyist expenditures.
“There’s a lot of resistance on the Republican side of the aisle to contribution limits,” McManus said. “But I think there’s probably an agreement on the element of transparency that Missourians should get regarding campaign finances.”
Lawmakers can begin pre-filing bills on Dec. 3 and the legislative session begins Jan. 9.
Headline: State Auditor uncovers issues within Missouri State Lottery Commission [Entered: 11/27/2012]
By Taylor Beck
An audit of the Missouri State Lottery Commission released on Tuesday, Nov. 27, showed problems for the agency in long-term contracts, sponsorships, advertising expenditures and violations in sunshine laws.
The audit revealed that $5 million in advertising went unreported to state lawmakers. The commission said those expenses were reported elsewhere in its budget, but the expenditures were not considered “advertising.”
Gary Gonder, the lottery’s chief operations officer, said those expenses were reported under the same guidelines as other state agencies.
“Every penny that we spend, whether it’s a ballpoint pen or it’s advertising, is reported. There’s just different object codes,” Gonder said.
The audit said the commission did not properly document some topics discussed in closed meetings, which violates the state’s open meetings law. Gonder said the commission agrees with the audit’s recommendation to correctly document what will be discussed in closed meetings.
“In order to be able to speak about something, whether it’s an open or closed meeting, you must maintain what’s on the agenda and our commission agrees with that,” Gonder said.
The audit also showed the commission spent over $400,000 sponsoring community events, but a majority had a negative return on investment. Gonder said the commission decides which events to sponsor based on a mathematical formula.
The commission received an overall rating of “good,” and Gonder said the commission agrees with all of the audit’s recommendations.
Headline: New lawmakers prepare for January’s legislative session [Entered: 11/27/2012]
By Lauren Bale
New Senate and House members met Nov. 27 for orientation for the legislative session, which begins Jan. 9.
The freshmen Senate members participated in a mock committee hearing to learn what to expect in the legislative session. The new members were also given a tour of the state Capitol and learned about Senate traditions.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said she was excited to begin her first Senate session.
“I’m looking forward to working with many of my colleagues I’ve worked with in the past by way of the House and many of them that have not ever served, as well.”
Freshman House members also gathered at the state Capitol Nov. 27 for an introduction into the legislature’s committee process.
The orientation allowed for all the new House members to get to know each other.
“We look at each other as people that have come here with the same kind of passion that each one of us have to do the best job that we can do,” said Rep. Steve Lynch, R-Waynesville. “We may disagree on some issues, but there is no doubt that there are some sincere, determined people here.”
Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Wellington, echoed Lynch’s excitement to begin the legislative session.
“It’s a little overwhelming, but it really is an honor to be here,” Kolkmeyer said. “I’ve met a lot of nice people and everybody has been really helpful.”
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: Dick Webster, the Senate’s Most Colorful Character [Entered: 11/30/2012]
[ Get the image at http://www.mdn.org/2012/ART/WEBSTER.JPG ]
By Phill Brooks
One of the most colorful and powerful characters I’ve covered in Missouri’s statehouse was Richard Webster.
He was a longtime senator from the southwest Missouri town of Carthage, serving from 1963 until his death in 1990.
One of my reporters at the time described Webster as an amateur actor, and he certainly treated the Senate chamber like his personal stage.
His frequent filibusters were some of the most entertaining times I’ve had in the Senate. I’d sit for hours enraptured by the tales he would tell.
Once while filibustering a bill to let teenagers enter pool halls without adult escorts, Webster gave a performance from a scene about a pool table in the musical “The Music Man.”
On another occasion when some Japanese government officials were introduced to the Senate, the World War II veteran responded, “I had the privilege of killing many of your ancestors.”
Somehow, maybe because he had such a playful style, Webster could get away with that kind of joke. “It was an honor to have our ancestors killed by such a distinguished senator,” came back the reply from the translator.
The quotes come from the Senate’s former communications director years later, but they’re exactly what I remember of the scene that caused a lot of raised eyebrows in the Senate.
Tall and lanky, Webster looked like a Missouri version of Abraham Lincoln. And, occasionally his dress seemed to come from that era. More than once he’d appear dressed in an all-white suit and vest appearing much like a riverboat gambler.
His office was like the back poker room of a riverboat with liquor flowing and thick clouds of smoke from Webster’s ever-present cigarette.
But Webster was far more than just an entertaining figure. During his time, he was one of the Senate’s most effective and influential legislators. Despite Democrats controlling the Senate, some described the Carthage Republican as the chamber’s most influential member.
If Webster didn’t like a bill, it was a sure bet it would not pass. And he was a master at getting his issues quietly stuck into amendments.
Webster’s office was run by his longtime assistant Pat Michelson. She and Webster made his office like a second home for legislators of both parties. His door was always open.
It was a place where, in a more relaxed environment, legislators and lobbyists could discuss key issues and personalities. Understandings, if not complete agreements, were reached. If you did not know about Webster’s office, you could not fully understand what was happening in Missouri’s General Assembly.
Despite his hospitality, Webster had a mean streak. If you crossed him, you could have an enemy for life.
That became the case for some poor public servant in the Natural Resources Department who had done something — I don’t remember what — that set Webster off. As a result, I watched him on the Senate Appropriations Committee regularly try to eliminate the woman’s salary and get her kicked out of government.
Webster truly hated some of the young staffers for Gov. Kit Bond and verbally attacked them viciously. He coined the phrase “kiddy corps” that he used repeatedly in Senate attacks to describe this crew of brash new folks. They were not sufficiently conservative for Webster nor did they display sufficient respect for the Senate.
They were fellow Republicans, but “he felt they hadn’t paid their dues,” as one of Webster’s closest Senate colleagues recalled.
Despite enrapturing oratory, you could not quite trust everything Webster said. He loved to tell tall tales, but he would, to put it mildly, sometimes exaggerate.
It struck me that it was for no better reason than to make his story more entertaining. He was not really deceptive about it. To some, he’d acknowledge that he sometimes would make things up. He actually advised me that I should not trust everything he said.
I remember one night he was talking about his own history and he pointed to the biography he had written about himself in the state’s official manual.
“He operated the first landing barge ashore in the invasion of the islands of Lubang and Masbate,” his biography noted in 1969. It was true, Webster said.
But, then with a chuckle in his voice, he went on to acknowledge that the “invasions” of the Pacific islands occurred after Japan’s emperor had surrendered. So what he saw when he landed were Japanese soldiers lined up in formation politely bowing.
It was a great story, but it wasn’t true!
In checking the spelling of the islands for this column, I learned that the invasion of those two islands actually had occurred well before Japan’s surrender. There had been real fighting.
It would seem that decades after his death I’m still learning the lesson Webster tried to teach me — to not believe everything he or any other politician says.
[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 the late Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]