The Missouri Budget Crisis And The Year 1985

Yesterday’s editorial in the Joplin Globe included this bad news for Missourians:

The state faces a $500 million to $700 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2012 that must be resolved by the Legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon. There is little hope for substantial federal funding to offset that shortfall.

The only news worse than that is what the Globe editorial said in response to that bad news:

We urge our governor and legislators in the upcoming legislative session to continue to make the painful choices necessary to keep Missouri state government living well within its means.

Let’s keep it that way with responsible state and local government and the acknowledgment from our residents that government is not a cure for all that ails society today.

Where does one start with such, well, with such reactionary Republican ridiculousness?

Okay, I’ll start with being the first resident to acknowledge that government is not a cure for all that ails society today.  There.  That’s done.

Now, to the “painful choices necessary to keep Missouri state government living well within its means” nonsense. 

It has become obvious that conservative governance in this state, as well as in the country at large, has undertaken a “starve the beast”—the government is always the beast—strategy.   Nationally, we are paying less in federal taxes as a percentage of GDP than at any time since 1950, which is illustrated nicely by this graph:  

Notice the increase in revenues resulting from the famous 1993 tax increase (which created budget surpluses) and the decline in revenues resulting from the Bush tax cuts (which created massive deficits).  And notice that the conservative strategy of starving the beast is working to the extent that nearly everyone is now talking about entitlement cuts and other government-reducing exercises.

As for the states, according to the conservative Tax Foundation, there are only 15 states with a lower combined tax burden than Missouri.  But more disturbing is, in the words of  The Missouri Budget Project, “the erosion of Missouri’s revenue base since 1985”:

Missouri General Revenue spending as a portion of the economy is below the 1985 level.  The Hancock Amendment to Missouri’s Constitution restricts state general revenue growth to the ratio of general revenue to personal income that existed in the 1980s. The ratio of the two measures provides a picture of how far Missouri state general revenue has declined when compared to the state’s economy. State general revenue in FY 2010 was just 3.124 percent of state personal income, well below what it was in 1985 and nearly $2 billion below the Hancock “lid.” 

Here’s the chart:

Let this sink in:

State general revenue in FY 2010 was just 3.124 percent of state personal income, well below what it was in 1985 and nearly $2 billion below the Hancock “lid.”

Was Missouri an unfit place to live in 1985?  Were businesses and people fleeing the state? Were things so bad that we can’t see our way to go back to the revenue percentages of that time? 

Of course not.

That $2 billion would solve the “crisis” we face now, without the Joplin Globe fretting over “painful choices,” which really means painful budget cuts that naturally hurt the most vulnerable among us.

How about an editorial on that?

Once A “Dream” City, Neosho Now A Nightmare

It’s something like poetic justice that a Republican-dominated, small-government lovin’ place like Neosho, Mo., is among the first in our Southwest Missouri enclave of ultra-conservatives to experience what all of America would be like, should the Tea Party movement become dominant across the land.

Rejecting a property tax increase last Tuesday, 60% of Neosho voters said, “Go ahead, make our day,” to Mayor Richard Davidson and others in positions of responsibility, as they warned of even more drastic budget cuts coming, if voters refused to pay for city services.

According to news reports in the Joplin Globe and in today’s editorial, it’s possible that Neosho could lose up to half its police and fire contingent, and fee increases will likely place some activities previously subsidized by the city out of reach for a lot of folks.

The editorial mentioned something I had forgotten:

Several years ago, under the administration of [Republican] Gov. Matt Blunt, Neosho was tabbed as one of Missouri’s “Dream” cities. It was a program aimed at supplying selected towns with the tools to help improve quality of life and infrastructure.

Dream, indeed.

It’s time that people around these parts stop dreaming extremist conservative Republican dreams and join the world of the responsible.

Government is not evil; the people who run government are not thieves trying to steal every last penny from taxpayers. Policemen, firemen, teachers, food inspectors, air-traffic controllers, and so on, are part of what makes modern life relatively safe and stable.

Public golf courses, airports, museums, municipal sports leagues, libraries, and other trappings of civilization, are part of what makes modern life more enriching and enjoyable.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and access to health insurance make modern life a little less scary.

Civilization has a price.  Neosho residents will get as much of it as they are willing to pay for. Right now, that isn’t much.

 

Ron Richard’s Ego And Other “Highlights” Of The 2010 General Assembly

There are plenty of places one can go to develop an opinion on the performance of Missouri’s state legislators this last session, which ended on Friday.  Sean Nicholson at FiredUp! Missouri has put together a lengthy list of web sources one can use to determine whether the session was a success, partial success, partial failure, or utter failure.

No matter what one thinks about the session, it’s hard to argue with the Kansas City Star:

The legislature’s purest accomplishment was the bipartisan effort to help families affected by autism.

Well, it’s actually not that hard to argue with it. It wasn’t exactly a “pure” accomplishment, since “families” doesn’t include those on Medicaid and the cost for requiring insurers to “pay for essential therapy” will not come from taxes but from premium increases. 

So, while the new law may “leave Missouri healthier and more productive,” it’s not exactly socialized medicine.

In any case, our own Joplin Globe was cited as a source for post-session news: Term limits change political landscape for Southwest Missouri.

The article highlighted our various local legislators and the “power” they held, now all gone because restraints on democracy—term limits—have deemed them all unworthy to seek the same office again.

But don’t worry about these folks, as apparently politics is in their blood and nothing, not even term limits, will keep them from serving Missourians:

Rep. Ron Richard, Joplin, is running for the 32nd District Senate seat held by Gary Nodler, Joplin.

Sens. Nodler and Jack Goodman, Mount Vernon, are each seeking the GOP nomination for the 7th District House seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson, Webb City, hasn’t filed for a new political race, but said Friday he is “not closing any doors.”

Rep. Kevin Wilson, Neosho, has not filed for any political seat either, but said he plans to stay in politics, though he didn’t hint at what that might mean.

Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, is running for the Missouri Senate, but in his case in the 28th District.

Rep. Marilyn Ruestman has filed for presiding commissioner of Newton County

So, we are destined to cross paths with these public servants again and again and again.*  So much for term limits.

The most interesting part of Alexandra Nicholas’ story, though, was a little glimpse into the cavernous ego of our own Ron Richard, Speaker of the House, who at times this year lost control of his herd of cats, but nevertheless had a fond memory of the legislative session.  From the article:

Richard, who helped draft legislation in recent years to spur job growth, said he wishes he could have done more this term to create jobs, but the reality was that the state faces one of the “worst budget shortfalls in Missouri history.”

Asked for his highlight, he cited being unanimously elected speaker of the House — and surviving the job — something that hasn’t always happened with his predecessors.

“This is something I never dreamed would happen to me,” Richard said.

Yes, Ron, we’re glad you had such a great time and we’re glad that your “highlight” wasn’t one of the wonderful laws you helped pass for us Missourians, but a dream come true for you.

But given what happened this session—no balanced budget despite onerous cuts to programs that help children, the disabled, and the elderly; a paltry “ethics reform” bill that failed to restore limits on campaign contributions; and even more abortion restrictions on Missouri women—I would want to focus on something else, too.

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*Richard doesn’t have any opposition for the 32nd District Senate seat.

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