Plugging in to conflict in state capitals

05/10/2014 6:37 PM

05/10/2014 6:37 PM

Small steps, long road

In a week filled with drama at the Missouri Capitol, the General Assembly managed with relative ease to pass a $26.4 billion budget with some bright spots.

Lawmakers added $115 million to the school funding formula, along with additional money for school transportation, reading programs and need-based college scholarships. Their budget includes $23.6 million to nearly eliminate the waiting lists for in-home services needed by developmentally disabled adults. And legislators waved off a preposterous challenge from Republican Kurt Schaefer, the Senate budget chairman, and added $5.1 million in funding for the overburdened Children’s Division.

The budget reverses one of the miserable Medicaid cuts imposed when Republican Matt Blunt was governor, and adds $48 million for dental care and rehab therapies for the state’s lowest-income parents. Though positive, that’s a far cry from expanding Medicaid eligibility to the limits called for in the federal Affordable Care Act. That needed step would make almost 300,000 working Missourians eligible for affordable health care.

Likewise, while lawmakers boasted about providing a record level of school funding, they need to add $556 million to meet the education financing formula called for in state law.

Missouri remains a seriously underfunded state, which makes the General Assembly’s insistence on passing income tax cuts that eventually will cost the state $600 million a year all the more foolish.

A blind curve

It’s being described as a sneak attack. Anti-competitive. Another example of power over principle.

All of those descriptions are accurate.

The Missouri Senate this week slipped an amendment into a formerly innocuous bill dealing with all-terrain and off-highway recreational vehicles. Added with no public hearings, the amendment is correctly seen as an attack on Tesla, the high-end electric car company that has a service center in St. Louis and just announced plans to open a larger center in Kansas City.

The measure would prevent Tesla from circumventing dealerships — a well-oiled group in Missouri — and selling directly to customers.

It’s hard to see why the state of Missouri should protect car dealers from a newcomer that chooses a different business model. For a Republican-controlled legislature that likes to extoll the virtues of free enterprise, the General Assembly is quick to abandon that principle when the right lobbyists come calling.

Tesla is now lobbying up for a fight in the last week of the session. It reportedly has hired at least 10 intermediaries, including former House Speaker Steve Tilley.

In Jefferson City, it’s usually the lobbyists who are in the driver’s seat.

Going postal

The Kansas Legislature finished its session expeditiously this year, but that doesn’t mean Kansans will get a break from some of the contentious issues.

Already groups affiliated with Koch Industries of Wichita are mailing out campaign materials aimed at intimidating or ousting legislators who wisely killed a move this year to repeal the state standard that requires utility companies to obtain 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The postcards contain misleading information, asserting that utility rates have risen 27 percent in states with standards similar to Kansas. The source of that information is unclear, but the Kansas Corporation Commission has said that the state’s renewable energy standards are responsible for only about 2.2 percent of the increased cost of electricity.

In Kansas, Missouri and other states, monied interest groups never go out of session.

We’ll drink to that

In search of a positive note on which to close, we see the Missouri legislature has sent Gov. Jay Nixon a bill proposing that the public have the opportunity to purchase alcoholic beverages in the state Capitol on certain occasions.

The Capitol Commission, an oversight group, would have to approve the events.

This, perhaps, is progress. Now members of the public, not just the lobbyists, will have an opportunity to imbibe with lawmakers. On their own dime, of course.

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