The Joplin Globe, Oct. 20
Amendment would damage courts
A group of outraged Missourians, tired of corruption in their courts, got to work to bring about change. The year was 1937.
They used the initiative petition process to put what's called "the Missouri Plan" on the ballot. Voters passed it in 1940, ending an era of "boss" politics within the courts.
On Nov. 6, voters will render a verdict on the future of the Missouri Plan. It's listed on the ballot as Constitutional Amendment 3, and, in our opinion, it would unnecessarily change a nonpartisan court plan that has been imitated by more than 30 states across the nation. Under the plan, when a vacancy occurs for a judge on the state Supreme Court or an appellate court, a judicial nominating commission interviews interested applicants and picks three of them as judicial nominees. The governor then selects the new judge from one of those three nominees.
Members of the selection commission are lawyers and non-lawyers from different parts of the state, and terms have been staggered such that they are not necessarily of the same political party as the governor. This keeps the process apolitical. In addition, the three largest metropolitan areas of the state have adopted this plan for their trial-level judges. Greene County voters recently adopted the plan.
Once appointed, these judges are regularly evaluated by lawyers and members of the public who serve as jurors, and the ratings they receive are publicized by the Missouri Bar so that voters, who are asked whether they should be retained, can focus on their skills and work. The names of the applicants for these positions are public record. Members of the public may send letters to the nominating commission or to the governor to express their opinion about a candidate.
The ballot proposal that will be before you on Nov. 6 would modify the composition of the Appellate Judicial Commission and the selection process for appointing judges to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. It would eliminate the chief justice as a member and give the governor the power to appoint four citizen members, who may be lawyers, in addition to the three lawyers the bar association appoints. It would increase from three to four the number of nominees the commission presents to the governor and would eliminate the staggered terms of the commissioners, allowing the governor to appoint four members in his first year in office.
Since 2002, efforts have been made to change the Missouri Plan. Those efforts have largely been supported through out-of-state efforts and dollars. This newspaper has consistently voiced opposition to the efforts to overturn the Missouri Plan.
On Aug. 1, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ray Price stepped down after 20 years of service, including two terms as chief justice. He made his decision to retire now because he wanted to be sure that his successor would be appointed under the Missouri Plan. Price told us on Friday that those who want to change the plan have lost sight of the common good of a fair and balanced court system.
"The proposals (to change the plan) are interjected with influence and the power of money," Price said.
There's no question that big money is being spent to try to influence judges. Price said that from 1990 to 1999, $83.3 million was spent on judicial elections nationwide. That number more than doubled from the year 2000 to 2009.
We don't want judges who are bought and paid for in Missouri. And we don't want Constitutional Amendment 3 to go into effect.
The St. Joseph News-Press, Oct. 20
Vote 'yes' to boost tobacco tax
The arguments for Missouri's Proposition B — the tobacco tax on the Nov. 6 ballot — are unusually compelling:
Extend the lives of thousands of state residents, particularly young people, by prompting them to smoke less, to quit or to not start in the first place.
Restore sense to policies that make cigarettes relatively cheap here at the same time all state taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid spending directly related to smoking.
Invest hundreds of millions of dollars in tax proceeds in things that can improve lives and our state's future — 50 percent for public schools, 30 percent for colleges and universities, 20 percent for smoking prevention and cessation programs.
At 17 cents a pack, our cigarette tax is last in the nation. The proposed 73-cent boost would put us in the middle in our nine-state region and keep us easily in the bottom half of all states. And yet, by all reliable accounts the increase would be enormously helpful in heading off health problems and related costs.
Nearly one-fourth of adults in Northwest Missouri smoke cigarettes — even in the face of research of the last three decades that demonstrates how dramatically this increases health risks. Between 15 and 20 percent of our high school students smoke cigarettes.
Think about it: Our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax almost certainly contributes to the 10,000 deaths a year in the state linked to tobacco use. We have the 11th highest smoking rate in the nation and the 8th highest deaths from lung cancer.
Credible studies indicate that if the increase passes, 33,000 adult smokers will quit over five years and more than 40,000 youths never will become addicted as adults. There is no question a higher cigarette tax will improve health outcomes for thousands of state residents.
The financial arguments are equally convincing. Any downturn in smoking will cut into the associated costs: $532 million a year spent on Medicaid patients with tobacco-related illnesses and $2.13 billion in overall annual costs for state consumers.
At the same time, conservative estimates put new tax collections at $283 million in the first year. That first-year impact — before smoking rates start to fall — is projected to be $2.1 million for Missouri Western State University, nearly $3 million for Northwest Missouri State University and around $2 million for the St. Joseph School District.
Every college and school district would benefit to the proportion they receive state funding now.
Opponents want voters to believe the state cannot be trusted to use the new tax proceeds as promised. They assert this despite the fact the proposition includes unprecedented safeguards.
The law requires all money from the higher tax collections to be treated as new funding and forbids it to be used to replace existing dollars spent on education. An annual audit is required.
Missouri voters should do the prudent thing and approve Proposition B.
Southeast Missourian, Oct. 22
A report on a snapshot look on the region's homeless indicates a rising number of homeless people in the Southeast Missouri region.
The number of homeless people is difficult to track, as many are living on couches of friends or family, while others live out of sight in vehicles.
But the Missouri Housing Development Commission twice a year does a point-in-time count that gives a look at how many homeless are in an area on a given day.
In a story reported by Melissa Miller, the number of sheltered and unsheltered homeless in eight Southeast Missouri counties -- Cape Girardeau, Perry, Bollinger, Scott, Stoddard, Wayne, Mississippi and New Madrid -- increased slightly from 216 in the winter 2011 point-in-time count to 222 in the winter 2012 count.
Cape Girardeau County saw a decrease in homeless, from 124 in winter 2011 to 99 in winter 2012, but Scott County's homeless increased from 61 to 82 and Wayne County's homeless grew from zero to 15. Other Southeast Missouri counties' numbers remained steady.
In today's economy it's not surprising to see homeless numbers on the rise. Local social services leaders say the homeless nowadays aren't necessarily in that situation because of addiction or mental health issues, but because of an inability to find jobs with adequate pay, as costs for food, fuel, health care and other necessities rise.
Earlier this month, Project Homeless Connect -- an event aimed at helping the homeless get connected with services -- took place at the Osage Centre. It attracted 250 people, though not all of those who attended were homeless. A wide range of free services were offered, from haircuts to dental screenings to legal consultation.
It was a well-organized and successful event, and another indicator that there are great needs in our community. Please consider how you can help those less fortunate, whether by donating food, money or time. Contact the United Way of Southeast Missouri at 334-9634 to see how you can help.
The Columbia Tribune, Oct. 18
Role and Scope
Seasoned observers of the higher education scene will remember "Role and Scope," the contentious plan launched by former University of Missouri President Brice Ratchford to reallocate areas of emphasis to the various campuses in his system.
It was a good idea but brought feverish opposition from partisans who thought the plan did something to de-emphasize their favorites.
From time to time, a new milquetoast version of Role and Scope emerges as new campus managers rediscover the essential good sense of allocating programs to focus on strengths and weed out weaknesses. Just as often, the effort bogs down.
A major reallocation effort during the presidency of Jim Olsen blew up in then-Chancellor Barbara Uehling's face when she tried to implement a plan ordered by the Board of Curators to be implemented by Olsen. By the time the bombs quit bursting, Uehling was left alone trying to perform the duty ordered but abandoned by the board and president.
These political failures do nothing to diminish the wisdom of properly allocating functions and resources throughout the system. Every successful enterprise should do this. Campus leaders fresh from private industry have allocation and reallocation inbred from past experience but learn the hard way how much harder it is in the public, or even the private, university setting.
However, UM President Tim Wolfe is giving it another try. Building on efforts under way when he arrived, Wolfe recently informed curators he wants each campus to be "best in class" by defining "what piece of the marketplace you want to be in." This will require tradeoffs, Wolfe said without being specific.
Meaning in more gentle language this is the same process ordered for Uehling and Co. back when each campus was told to find 15 percent of programs it could do without, the process that caused so much furor. ...
These efforts always are driven by budgetary stress. Exigency, implying a life-threatening shortage of cash, is about the only ready excuse university leaders can use to cut programs. Lacking such a dire message to send, UM and other institutions still complain about perennial underfunding from state legislators, many of whom simply think higher education can get by with less. These narrow minds simply want to reduce spending instead of rewarding institutional efforts to spend more wisely. ...
... Meaningful reallocation would be evidence for legislatures of wise spending. More prominent pillars of excellence would help make the case. Now such progress depends mostly on outside grants of less consistent nature.
The state does make campuses jump through hoops to launch new programs, but unraveling the web of the past is pursued mainly with lip service. Big, comprehensive campuses such as MU suffer from constant pressure to be all things, trying in vain to be above average in all programs — like the people of Lake Woebegone.
No doubt Wolfe and his curators have the right idea but are leery of pushing too fast. Officers of longer standing on the campuses are explaining the need to step carefully. Many gave up long ago. Others want to preserve their current middling status rather than risk changes in funding patterns.
All this is understandable but anathema to the best assignment of resources.
Ratchford was the first over the top into the minefield, teaching his successors what they might be in for. From his grave, Ratchford would counsel caution for the next foray, but given his feisty character, he probably would urge one more try.