Nixon invests smartly in better future for Missouri
The Kansas City Star
After four years of risk-averse governing and a cautious campaign, Gov. Jay Nixon at last is proposing bold steps that would greatly help Missouri.
He will need all the heft of his office, a groundswell of public support and some help from both sides of the legislative aisle to meet the worthy initiatives he proposed this week in his State of the State address and budget.
- Expand Missouri’s very low Medicaid threshold to the limits called for in the federal Affordable Care Act.
Nixon projects an expansion would enable 300,000 Missourians to obtain reliable medical care, with the federal government picking up the full cost for three years and not less than 90 percent after that. He said the move would create 24,000 jobs in 2014, save $31 million in expenses the state currently pays for medical care, and generate $15.5 million in taxes next year.
In a smart maneuver, Nixon said he would propose legislation calling for Missouri’s eligibility limits to be rolled back proportionately to any decrease in federal funding.
Despite having the support of nearly every chamber of commerce and business group in the state, a Medicaid expansion faces an uphill battle in the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Communities need to mobilize to convince reluctant legislators that it’s economically and morally right to help low-income residents obtain insurance.
- Enact significant ethics reform, including a cap on campaign contributions.
If a strong ethics bill doesn’t land on his desk, Nixon said he’ll push for a ballot initiative capping the donations that individuals and groups can give to candidates. Missourians overwhelmingly supported a similar initiative in the 1990s.
- Take advantage of record-low interest rates to borrow money for capital improvements at public schools and universities, state parks and the Fulton State Hospital. This is the right time to invest in Missouri’s public assets and encourage construction jobs.
Nixon smartly proposes paying for a bond issue by reining in some of the state’s runaway tax credit programs. Convincing the legislature to do that would score a double win.
- Invest in education by more than doubling the amount the state spends on early-childhood learning.
Nixon also proposes increasing funding for elementary and secondary education by $100 million and higher education by $34 million. That’s not enough for either sector, but after years of either flat budgets or cuts, any sort of a raise is welcome.
Join Kansas and nearly half the other states in an agreement to make it easier for Internet retailers to voluntarily pay taxes on sales to Missouri residents. Nixon estimates the state would gain about $10 million a year.
Pump up several mental health efforts with $10 million in additional funding. The money would train educators, students, law enforcement officers, faith leaders and others to recognize mental health issues and respond to them properly.
The biggest flaw in Nixon’s budget is a move to eliminate a tax credit the state currently pays to about 105,000 low-income renters who are elderly or disabled.
The credits, which average about $500 a year, enable recipients to make essential purchases they’ve been putting off, and in some cases to purchase medications.
Nixon says the money spent, about $56.6 million, would be used to provide services for seniors and the disabled. But for many people, an annual cash payment is a lifesaver.
After years of cuts, Nixon’s budget begins to invest again in Missouri’s citizens and institutions. His forecast relies on economic growth of a little over 3 percent, and on the legislature’s cooperation on issues such as Medicaid expansion and online sales tax collection.
If Nixon puts his well-honed political skills behind his strongest agenda yet, the state and its people will be better for it.