Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»«MDBO»COL151.PRB - Agreement on Problems, but Not Solutions«MDNM»
In the opening weeks of Missouri's legislative session, I've been surprised by the degree of agreement about the major problems facing this state.
Yet, I'm hearing no agreement on how to fix the problems.
Let me cite just a few of the many issues for which I find agreement of importance, but no consensus as to a solution.
Transportation: This is the biggest no-answer issue for Missouri government leaders. There's no disagreement in Missouri's statehouse that our state's highway system is facing a funding crisis within a few years.
If you believe the predictions from the Transportation Department, we are facing a catastrophe.
Yet, nobody in a leadership position in Missouri is offering a solution.
Instead, the Transportation Department proposes to cease major upgrades for most of the state's highways to deal with fewer dollars.
Gov. Jay Nixon acknowledged the magnitude of the funding problem in his annual address to state lawmakers.
But Nixon did not recommend any solution. Instead, he simply cited the proposals from others for toll roads or a higher gas tax. Likewise legislative leaders have offered no solution.
Ferguson: I've heard no disagreement that what happened in Ferguson demands action by Missouri government.
But there is no agreement as to what action government should take.
Ferguson protesters and many Democrats argue for changes in the law enforcement system including restrictions on when police can use lethal force against a suspect, requirements for outside investigations of police killings and civilian review boards.
Many Republicans, however, reject those ideas. Instead, they call for improved economic development and education improvements in areas like Ferguson to provide more hope for jobs.
Ethics: Just about everyone in this Capitol building where I work is calling for "ethics" reform. But when you ask the question of what is meant by "ethics," you'll hear quite different explanations.
For years, Democrats have called for restoration of the voter-approved limits on contributions to a political candidate.
But Republicans have killed that idea, calling instead for tougher
disclosure requirements on both campaign contributions and lobbyist expenditures.
Others are calling for a flat-out ban on lobbyists gifts to government officials.
Welfare and Medicaid: This could be the biggest issue in which I see Republicans and Democrats talking past each other.
Democrats, including the governor, call for expanding Medicaid health care coverage for lower income Missourians.
But Republicans are calling for tougher controls over Medicaid.
Some Republicans propose more welfare restrictions including shortening the lifetime limit to be on the state's largest welfare program.
These are just a few of the many issues upon which I hear legislators agree as to importance, but for which there are deep conflicts as to the solutions.
Years before legislative term limits, veteran lawmakers described how these kinds of differences provided an opportunity to negotiate solutions.
If there was a collective "fire in the belly" to solve a problem, there always were ways to find compromises.
Governors would help that negotiation process, with their sleeves rolled up in private and sometimes in tense deal-making sessions -- governors like Kit Bond, John Ashcroft and Mel Carnahan.
So far, Jay Nixon has avoided that kind of intense, hands-on role.
But in his State of the State address to legislators, Nixon suggested a change.
He told legislators "I'll be coming around more often" to the legislature's third floor.
His speech went further. He opened a door of discussion about Ferguson by endorsing both Republican and Democratic proposals.
He softened language on "ethics reform" and did not repeat his charge of last year when he accused Republicans of harming Missourians by rejecting Medicaid expansion.
Further, Nixon's office has been involved in negotiations with the legislature to find a compromise to the bill on failing schools that he had vetoed last year.
It all makes for an interesting legislative session. I'll be looking to see if Nixon's new approach can overcome the divides.
[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 an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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