St. Joseph News-Press, Feb. 16
Link tax cuts, tax credits:
Here's a thought about tax credits and tax cuts: Lawmakers may choose not to put them in the same bill, but it's smart to put them in the same conversation.
There is word out of the Missouri House that Speaker Tim Jones views the issues as separate and he is opposed to linking them. This becomes a problem because Gov. Jay Nixon has signaled he is willing to deal but only if certain conditions are met.
Gov. Nixon said last week he would sign a tax cut (contingent on new revenue growth), but only if legislators:
— Agree to fully fund the public school foundation formula (currently more than $550 million short of what is called for under state law).
— Limit low-income housing tax credits to $110 million annually (down from $135 million) and historic preservation tax credits to $90 million annually (down from $140 million).
— Remove a provision for a business income tax cut.
Republican Sen. Will Kraus of Lee's Summit, who is shepherding the legislation in the Senate, projects a cut of one-half of a percentage point in Missouri's 6 percent individual income tax rate would leave about $400 million in the pockets of taxpayers annually.
"My goal is to cut taxes on Missourians," says Sen. Kraus, who previously has pushed business and personal tax cuts that would top $900 million when fully implemented. "To take what you know you can get is better than to pass a bill that you know you can't get."
On the surface, this appears to be a constructive effort to find middle ground. Below the surface, lots of moving parts suggest this is far from over.
Gov. Nixon's proposal has the potential to delay tax cuts for years as the state struggles to fully fund the school foundation formula. Meanwhile, true believers in the need to provide new incentives to businesses are left wanting — as they were after the governor's veto last year.
As for the two tax credits, Republican Sen. Brad Lager of Savannah is among those who have advocated much deeper cuts in the past.
Even without a resolution on the near horizon, it's good our Democratic governor and leading Republican legislators are talking about their priority issues. Schools, tax cuts, tax credits — all are connected when the public's limited resources are footing the bill.
Jefferson City News Tribune, Feb. 14
Database would curb prescription drug abuse:
Credit Missouri representatives with advancing a proposal to curb the abuse of prescription drugs.
The House has approved and sent to the Senate a bill to create a prescription drug database designed to eliminate "doctor shopping" to obtain multiple prescriptions, which then are abused or sold.
The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, called Missouri the "doctor-shopping capital for the country." He added: "This is killing people in Missouri, and we can do something to help."
Like-minded lawmakers shared accounts of family members or friends who suffered consequences associated with prescription drug abuse and addiction.
Opponents, however, fear creation of a statewide database could compromise personal privacy.
Under the legislation, pharmacies would submit prescription information — including the name of the patient, doctor, drug and dosage details — to a database maintained by the state Department of Health and Senior Services.
The database would be confidential, but information could be shared with physicians, pharmacies, regulators and law enforcement officers authorized by subpoenas or court orders.
Illegally disclosing information would be a crime punishable by up to a year in jail and $1,000 fine.
Based on the experiences of other states that have established such programs, funding for the database is expected to come from gifts, grants and donations.
The federal Office of National Drug Control Policy characterizes the abuse of prescription drugs as "a serious public health and public safety problem."
The website WebMD reports "an estimated 48 million people (aged 12 and older), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetime. That figure represents approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in prescription drug misuse or abuse. This increase has led to a corresponding increase in ER visits because of accidental overdoses as well as admissions to drug treatment programs for drug addictions."
We're sensitive to privacy issues, but a greater concern is human misery caused by prescription drug abuse, addiction and overdoses, as well as the social costs of emergency room visits and treatment.
We encourage lawmakers to join the majority of other states and pass this legislation.
Columbia Daily Tribune, Feb. 16
Here we go again on voter ID:
Despite lack of evidence that voter fraud is a problem in Missouri, Republicans in the General Assembly again this year are pushing a law to require additional forms of photo identification to guard against such fraud.
Last year they used their majority to enact a law later found unconstitutional because it was part of an omnibus bill containing multiple subjects. Despite an earlier Missouri Supreme Court finding enforcing this rule — the decision often labeled "Hammerschmidt" for the Columbia Chamber of Commerce president who was the designated plaintiff back then — and last year's court reiteration outlawing the bill containing voter ID, Republicans again want a bite of the apple. This year they are pushing the same provisions in separate bills, including a constitutional amendment aimed at removing the Hammerschmidt hurdle. The bills enacting the new photo requirement would not go into effect unless statewide voters approved the amendment.
Bill sponsor Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, used familiar but irrelevant arguments to claim the burden is not too heavy: Identification is required to cash a check, board an airplane or enter a federal building. He said his law will prevent voting fraud, including registration of dead people, "which in some parts of the state is part of our history."
"All the time we have had stolen elections," he said. "We have a history of cheating in this state."
Who knew? Certainly not the former and current Missouri secretaries of state. Certainly not Boone County Clerk Wendy Noren, widely regarded as one of the outstanding election managers in the nation. Certainly not the general public from any knowledge other than the frantic warnings issued by Republicans, who have seized on the issue as one of their playbook weapons against Democrats.
The bottom line is additional hurdles should not be put in the way of voting without clear evidence of need, which does not exist in this case. If an occasion of voter fraud shows up, it should be prosecuted. Wholesale interference is wrong.
Why are Republicans fixated on voter ID? They regard it as a way to disqualify voters more likely to vote Democratic. They implicitly make the case for the impropriety of unwarranted voter ID more likely to dissuade the elderly, young, poor and other minority elements of society without drivers' licenses or other commonly held forms of identification.
Courts often find such laws impose illegal "burdens" on rights of citizens. Legislatures trying to flout entitlement laws they don't like but can't change erect onerous hurdles for compliance. Examples from history are much more common than anything Cox or other voter ID proponents can show to the contrary, ranging all the way from poll taxes to "intelligence" tests for black people and everything else protectionists could rig up to keep "them" out of the voting booth.
As the law has narrowed these reprehensible practices, voter ID remains. The most recent attempt in Missouri is to erect the highest hurdle they can find that will pass constitutional muster. Sad to say, today's legislators in Jefferson City will keep pushing this issue, even to the point of trying to change the state constitution.
Voters should reject the amendment initiative. Even if it passes, state citizens can't enact statutes or state constitutional provisions that violate the U.S. Constitution. A federal judge in Texas will hear a case disputing the voter ID law in that state for imposing an illegal burden interfering with voting by minorities. A recent U.S. Supreme decision made it easier for states to enact new voting rules, but there are bound to be limits. We shall see.
Meanwhile, it's not illegal for state legislature to do the right thing. First on the list should be protection of voter rights, palpably a nonpartisan issue.
Springfield News-Leader, Feb. 13
Solar farms being planted:
There was a time when a solar panel was an unusual sight, too expensive for most people or utility companies to purchase.
Soon, folks in the Ozarks are likely to be able to witness two "solar farms" — one in Springfield and a possible second one in Nixa — where acres of solar panels will capture energy from the sun to send out to local homes and businesses.
City Utilities has contracted with Solexus Development in St. Louis and Strata Solar out of North Carolina to build a 4.95-megawatt system on a 57-acre plot of land in Springfield, with groundbreaking expected in March. It would be the largest solar farm in the state.
That is, unless Nixa agrees to a 7.92-megawatt power plant on 72 acres just west of the city limits.
Both CU and the city of Nixa have looked at the bottom line before going solar.
CU determined that its solar farm would produce enough energy to power 875 homes in Springfield. Renewable power, such as solar and wind, are an important part of CU's portfolio.
Nixa is considering whether a solar farm would provide an advantage to that city's customers. The solar power would be expected to lower the amount of electricity Nixa purchases each month from CU.
Solar power has many advantages. It is a renewable source of power that does not pollute the environment.
But, regardless of its positive impact on the environment, no community can afford to take on solar — or any other renewable source of power — if it doesn't pay for itself.
That is why these two projects are so exciting. They are evidence that what was once a crazy, tree-hugger dream is becoming a viable reality as the technology reaches a scale that makes it economical.
CU turned to Solexus and Strata Solar after considering a group of proposals it had solicited. Selecting a Missouri firm is also an important step because it will help expand solar business in the state.
Solexus approached Nixa, proposing a similar 25-year contract with that city to buy the power from its farm, which would be placed on land leased from state Sen. Jay Wasson, a land developer in Nixa.
This is an exciting development. It demonstrates that the solar industry is growing and thriving. And it puts southwest Missouri in a valuable position in this new and growing industry.
We have land and sunshine to spare, and our natural beauty is a source of pride.
Embracing our natural environment by hosting a clean and predictable source of energy is a smart move. And now it appears to be a financially economical move, as well.