St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 25
Want Legislature's attention? Write a bigger check:
Toward the end of his reign as speaker of the Missouri House in 2012, Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, took two important steps to make sure his next career — lobbyist — would be lucrative.
First, after pretending he was in favor of a sweeping ethics reform package, he made sure that any true reforms, such as closing the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying, didn't pass.
Then, shortly before resigning to start his own lobbying and political consulting practice, he set up a committee to study the state's transportation needs.
Mr. Tilley's first clients? The concrete lobby, of course, the construction, engineering and design firms that stand to benefit if a sales tax increase for roads passes on the November ballot.
The Legislature voted this month to put the measure before voters. Mr. Tilley, because he has no shame, lobbied hard for it. He also may have put some financial skin into the game.
On May 10, the Saturday before the session ended, four days before the sales tax measure ultimately passed, the House Republican Campaign Committee — which raises money for GOP House candidates — received a $10,000 check from Mr. Tilley's campaign committee, Friends of Tilley.
Mr. Tilley isn't actually running for office any more, but because he helped make sure Missouri remains an ethics-free zone, he uses that kitty of approximately $900,000 to supplement his lobbying business.
Mr. Tilley's no fool. He knows making such a donation the final week of session oozes Eau de Corruption. In fact, it was during the final week of his last session as speaker when Mr. Tilley criticized then-GOP gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence for trying to buy favor with fellow Republicans by inviting them to his luxury suite to watch Blues games. Mr. Tilley knows how the game is played. That was payback for Mr. Spence proposing strong new ethics laws that would have made much of what Mr. Tilley now does illegal.
According to Missouri Ethics Commission records, Mr. Tilley's $10,000 donation came the day after he signed up Tesla Motors as a lobbying client. Tesla was trying to beat back another unethical trick common in the Legislature: Special interests trying to slip a provision into law at the last minute, without a hearing, in this case a law that would have undermined Tesla's business model.
Two days after Mr. Tilley's donation, Majority Leader Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, declared the Tesla bill dead. Pure coincidence, both Mr. Diehl and Mr. Tilley insist. The check couldn't have been related to Tesla, said the HRCC, because even though the check was deposited on the 10th, it was dated May 2.
Fact is, we don't know why Mr. Tilley wrote that check. But its timing, and its mere existence, from a campaign account that shouldn't even be allowed to exist, casts a dark cloud over every vote taken — or not taken — the last week of the session involving one of Mr. Tilley's clients.
Maybe that's the way the lawmaker-turned-lobbyist wants it. Like uber-donor Rex Sinquefield, who cut a $1.5 million check to his Grow Missouri committee a few days after the Republicans followed his marching orders and put a potentially devastating tax cut for the wealthy into law, maybe Mr. Tilley makes donations to draw attention to himself. To send a message that he's here to win and he's got the cash to make it happen.
Indeed, that is the ultimate lesson of the Missouri Legislature's 2014 session. This is reality in a state that refuses to limit the flow of money in a corrupt political system.
You want to win in the Missouri Capitol? Write a bigger check.
The Joplin Globe, May 23
'The Joplin recommendations':
Three years and billions of dollars later, we have to ask: Is Joplin safer? Are other communities in the path of tornadoes safer?
The answer to the first question, we believe, is yes.
Many people in the area have built back smarter, adding shelters, strengthening and reinforcing buildings, even if building codes don't yet require it.
We believe they ultimately will, but why wait, right?
As to the second question, we're not so sure, but there's a growing push in that direction.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has completed the most exhaustive and comprehensive study of a tornado-impacted community to date, and wants to see that the lessons learned in Joplin are incorporated into future building codes.
— Critical buildings should be designed to survive a severe (we'd say EF-5) tornado and remain operational. That seems obvious, but unfortunately it wasn't the case with several of our critical buildings, including a hospital and two fire stations.
— Multi-family buildings, such as apartments and business and other places where people assemble, should include tornado shelters. Many churches and some businesses have done this when they built back, but it's expensive to retrofit and not enough are doing it on their own.
The NIST study should lead to tougher standards as its recommendations are written into building codes in the coming years.
We welcome that.
Since May 22, 2011, we have noted several times in this forum that on the West Coast, buildings are (supposed to be) designed for major earthquakes, and on the East Coast, buildings are (supposed to be) designed for large, powerful hurricanes. But in Tornado Alley, too many communities build to a minimum standard, the least of what may come their way, instead of the worst.
If this country doesn't build on the lessons learned in Joplin, that will only compound the depth of our tragedy.
Jefferson City News Tribune, May 23
Will GOP regret flying too high?:
Will the final flurry of legislative activity by Missouri Republicans result in a fate similar to the mythological Icarus?
Icarus, our readers may recall, was the Greek mythological figure who was able to fly using wings fashioned from feathers and wax. But the exhilaration produced hubris, and Icarus flew too close to the sun, which melted his wings; he plummeted into the sea and drowned.
Republican legislative majorities experienced a similar heady exhilaration during the session that ended last May 16. They approved a priority tax cut and succeeded in overriding a veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.
The GOP also thwarted, for a second consecutive year, Nixon's proposed Medicaid expansion. Lawmakers approved a three-quarter cent transportation sales tax to appear on a future statewide ballot, as well as building bonds for a range of projects, some favored by Nixon.
Emboldened by their successes, Republicans on the session's last day passed eight bills, which Nixon characterized as "tax breaks to special interests, totaling up to $483 million in reduced revenue and throwing the budget severely out of balance."
Missourians now await what GOP priorities Nixon will metaphorically plunge into oblivion or jeopardy through withholdings or veto powers.
The governor said lawmakers "blew up" the budget. His budget chief, Linda Luebbering, referenced some building bonds when she said: "We haven't had a chance to look at it and, certainly, the governor hasn't had a chance to review it."
On a separate matter, Nixon on May 20 announced an additional $35 million in spending cuts for education. Although he attributed those cuts to declining revenues from lottery sales and casinos taxes, the action illustrates — again — that Nixon will act decisively to fulfill his constitutional mandate to balance the budget.
Although we anticipate other cuts — including a "look at" building bonds — we are encouraged by Nixon's stated commitment to protect bond money for a new Fulton State Hospital, a project we support.
Replacing the antiquated, and dangerous, mental health facility, Nixon said, is "a priority I've laid out for a number of years, and I'm appreciative of the Legislature for coming up with the method that I outlined. ..."
What the governor did not appreciate was the octet of tax cuts approved on the final day, when GOP lawmakers may have over-reached.
Flying too high, as Icarus learned, may have consequences.
The Kansas City Star, May 24
Missouri's good work with disabled citizens nearly clears waiting lists:
A genuine point of pride for Missouri government is its support for citizens with developmentally disabilities.
That became especially apparent during the just-completed legislative session. The Republican-controlled General Assembly honored a request by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon to allocate $23.6 million in state and federal money to next year's budget to nearly eliminate the lists of people waiting for home-based services.
Even better, lawmakers granted $37.2 million in state and federal funds to help citizens with developmental disabilities who encounter a crisis situation, such as the death of a caregiver.
Missouri is ahead of nearly all other states in serving these vulnerable citizens, thanks largely to a program begun in 2010, Partnership for Hope.
The state, county disability boards and federal government share the cost of services for disabled citizens who aren't covered under the traditional Medicaid program. Those include making homes more accessible, job training, transportation, respite care for family members and even dental care.
The cost-sharing arrangement has enabled Missouri to serve about 3,000 additional persons over the last three years. The money in the budget for the fiscal year beginning in July will bring 970 more clients into the program.
The only people not served are residents of 14 counties that have opted not to participate in Partnership for Hope. Unfortunately, that includes St. Louis County, the state's largest. One hundred counties have joined the partnership.
"It seems to be a win-win," Mike Hanrahan, president of Arc of Missouri, an advocacy group for disabled citizens, said of the partnership. "It really did reduce the waiting lists considerably."
Given Partnership for Hope's quick success, one has to wonder why other states aren't replicating it.
In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback recently said $2.2 million in savings from the KanCare medical program would be used to whittle down waiting lists for citizens with disabilities. But that action brought only 77 persons with developmental disabilities into the program. Inexcusably, more than 3,000 persons are still waiting to receive any services.
Missouri's willingness to take care of people with disabilities is a credit to Nixon and to legislators of both parties. But several unwise tax credit bills passed at the end of the session could deprive the state of needed revenues and force Nixon to cut services.
That would be a cruel blow to families. The governor and lawmakers should do whatever they can to honor the admirable commitment they made to disabled citizens in the 2015 budget.