Lawmaker: Missouri a "pathologically cheap" state
After all the fussing, fighting and stalling that went on in Missouri’s recently completed legislative session, I was surprised to hear Jeremy LaFaver, the lobbyist for Partnership for Children, say that he thought things went pretty well.
Upon further explanation, though, it became clear that LaFaver’s optimism is more a result of diminished expectations than actual gains for children, especially those in low-income families.
Consider some of the “victories” LaFaver listed at a luncheon for the advocacy group’s supporters:
1) Though Missouri has one of the nation’s lowest per-capital subsidies for child care assistance, the legislature kept funding steady this year at $188 million.
2) Funding for elementary and secondary education also remained steady. The state is paying $200 million less than what its own funding formula calls for, but at least the money wasn’t cut.
3) Two radical proposals that would hurt the poor — a greatly increased sales tax and a tight cap on any tax increases — didn’t get far with lawmakers.
See the pattern? Years of diminished budgets and strong-arming by lawmakers who basically disdain all government spending have left the groups which care about improving people’s lives grateful to settle for crumbs.
Mike Talboy, a Democratic legislator from Kansas City and the leader of the House democratic caucus, put it well.
“We live in a pathologically cheap state,” he said. “It is small victories that we say are victories, instead of setting up a legitimate structure for kids to succeed.”