Barbara Shelly

Who needs legislators in the Do-It-Yourself State?

It might be time to change Missouri’s nickname.

The “Show-Me State” has had a good run. It is believed to harken back to a 1899 speech by U.S. Congressman Will Duncan Vandiver, who declared at a banquet in Philadelphia, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”

We still raise corn and cotton in Missouri, and cockleburs pop up as weeds. But we aren’t producing a bumper crop of Democrats these days. And, sadly, our state politicians are no longer immune to the frothy eloquence of charlatans who sell the false logic of income tax cuts and anti-worker laws and other brands of snake oil.

A better name for Missouri at the moment would be the “Do-It-Yourself” state.

The inspiration comes from Republicans in the Missouri Senate, who have been filibustering a bill that would ask voters to approve a temporary one-cent sales tax to raise money to rebuild Interstate 70.

These folks know the money has to come from somewhere. But they’re not going to be the ones to put it on the ballot.

John Lamping, a Republican senator from Ladue, describes the proposed raise as “the largest single tax increase in the history of the state of Missouri.”

“For the Republican Party, my party, to use its supermajority in the legislature to place this on the ballot would go against everything we’re supposed to stand for,” Lamping told a Kansas City Star reporter.

But, he added, if supporters of a new I-70 want to put the sales tax on the ballot, they can pony up and do it themselves.

You bet! That is the new Missouri way. Don’t look to your state legislature to get things done. In the do-it-yourself state, initiative is everything.

You think your city should oversee its own police department? Find a wealthy benefactor and get that issue on the ballot. That’s how St. Louis gained administrative control of its police force, leaving Kansas City as the only major city in America to have a state-controlled police department.

Ethics reform? Early voting? Better start thinking about ballot initiatives for those, too. Your state legislature hasn’t shown much interest.

You make $15,000 a year and your employer doesn’t provide health insurance? Well, don’t expect the Missouri legislature to bail you out by accepting the federal Medicaid expansion. You want health insurance, find a policy. Can’t afford one? Hey, that’s what hospital emergency rooms are for. Also bankruptcy proceedings.

As for you folks in Kansas City still asking for economic development tools to compete with the ruthless incentive tactics employed by the state of Kansas, well, that didn’t get done this session either. Sorry, Kansas City. Have you thought about doing it yourself?

At 6 p.m. Friday, another legislative session will end, with promises unfulfilled and work left undone.

All is not lost, however. Lawmakers did outlaw land use practices that might be traced back to the 1992 non-binding United Nations resolution known as Agenda 21. And they spent hours fomenting about the Department of Revenue’s new practice of scanning source documents for driver’s licenses — like birth certificates and concealed carry permits — into a computer.

The scanning got Missouri Republicans so riled up they whacked a good chunk of money from the budget of the division that also prints and distributes driver’s licenses. This is trouble. Printing a license isn’t something one can do by oneself.

There is something to be said for a state that values self-sufficiency. But if the Missouri legislature isn’t going to do anything, does it really need to be in session from January through May? And does its House of Representatives need to be the fourth largest in the nation, with 163 members?

I think not. That’s a lot of time and money to pay for frothy eloquence and little else.