Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. March 25, 2021.

Editorial: Missouri legislature to voters: Drop dead. We won’t do as you told us on Medicaid

Republicans in the Missouri legislature continue to reject reason, logic, the law, empathy and common sense regarding Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health insurance for the poor.

The latest chapter in this apparently never-ending tragedy unfolded Thursday, when the House Budget Committee took up a spending bill that would pay for Medicaid expansion.

You’ll recall the state’s voters told lawmakers to expand Medicaid last August. The state’s constitution requires the state to provide Medicaid coverage for eligible Missourians at or below 133% of the poverty level.

For the radical Republicans in Jefferson City, however, the people’s will, and the constitution, are mere waste, to be flushed away. After several hours of debate Thursday, the committee rejected the Medicaid expansion budget measure: nine voting to approve it, 20 voting no.

Let’s be clear about the numbers. Expanding Medicaid would cost about $1.6 billion, according to the bill. Of that, only $103 million would come from the state’s general revenue. More than $1.4 billion would come from Washington.

No one can seriously argue Missouri lacks its $103 million share. State revenues are relatively even after the COVID-19 pandemic, and the federal government is pouring billions of additional dollars into the state to ease any additional budget concerns.

Even Gov. Mike Parson’s budget provides for expanded Medicaid. He knows the money is there. In fact, Missouri is likely eligible for enhanced payments from Washington for Medicaid expansion as part of the COVID-19 relief bill.

None of this made the slightest difference. Lawmakers on the Budget Committee simply threw more than $1 billion into the garbage, along with the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

If even money were tight, though, lawmakers still have no choice but to spend the cash, because the state constitution now requires coverage for eligible Missourians. Period. Legislators simply can’t ignore the constitution when it’s distasteful.

The fact that Republicans want to do so is extraordinarily enlightening, and frightening. They’re turning down billions of federal dollars. They’re ignoring voters. They’re violating the state constitution. Why?

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 27, 2021.

Editorial: A wage delayed is a wage denied

On Nov. 6, 2018, almost 1.5 million Missourians voted to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023. But state Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, has decided he knows better. Smith is pushing a measure that would snub the 62% of voters who approved that crucially needed increase, and push it back by three years. It’s only the latest example of legislative Republicans’ blatant contempt for the decisions of the voters.

Making law via referendum isn’t the best way to do it — we have elected representatives in state government for a reason — but when those representatives cease to represent their own constituents on major issues time and again, government-by-ballot-measure is what’s left. For several years now, the Republicans who control Jefferson City have positioned themselves far to the right of even most of the Republican voters who sent them there.

That has prompted ballot initiatives in which voters stepped around the opposition of their obstinate representatives to approve campaign reform, redistricting reform, government transparency, legalized medical marijuana, organized-labor protections and more. In virtually every instance, Republican lawmakers came back after the election with new measures designed to undo what the voters had just affirmatively done. It’s a spit in the eye to the very concept of the popular will.

As we’ve had to note so many times in recent years, here we go again.

It was a backlash to the Republican Legislature’s contempt for public opinion that spawned the wage hike in the first place. After St. Louis raised the then-$7.85 Missouri minimum wage to $10 in the city, legislative Republicans in 2017 retroactively banned cities from setting their own minimums (proving once again that “local control” is the GOP’s most disposable stated principle). The state’s voters responded the next year with the overwhelming approval of the incremental statewide rise to $12 by 2023.

As the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports, Smith originally sought to negate the wage increase altogether, but has settled instead on seeking to postpone the top rate until 2026 — to delay the raise for some of the most poorly paid people in Missouri. He says he’s doing it to give the business community time to adjust, although the incremental structure the voters approved already does that.

“Minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage,” Smith said last week. “We are talking about people entering the workforce with minimal job skills.”

That’s debatable — for many people, the minimum wage is, in fact, their living wage — but before that debate even comes into play, it’s rendered moot by a simple fact: Missouri’s voters have already spoken, forcefully, on this. That Republican lawmakers would seek to drown out their voices is no longer surprising, but it’s as appalling as ever.

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Joplin Globe. March 28, 2021.

Editorial: Maneuvering shameful; fund Medicaid expansion

When Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, budget committee chairman, split out funding for the Medicaid expansion from the general budget — an expansion that voters made part of our Missouri Constitution in August 2020 — we were concerned that it might have been a maneuver to highlight the spending, perhaps for future legal challenge or other political advantage.

Looks like it was more. It was an anti-constitutional maneuver to obstruct the will of Missouri voters and, even worse, to potentially deny medical care to the 275,000 residents of our state set to become eligible for coverage under the program.

Smith argued Medicaid already costs too much and needs changes to control costs and streamline services. “If we expand Medicaid without doing that, we are simply pouring gasoline on the fire of problems that could come along due to increased spending,” Smith said.

Yet this just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Instead of separating it out, the governor’s proposed $34.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2022 wrapped the cost into existing Medicaid spending for appropriation purposes. He did it without cutting other spending, and the state currently has a budget surplus given the amount of pandemic aid. A report in 2020 from Washington University’s Center for Health Economics and Policy concluded that a Medicaid expansion in Missouri “is approximately revenue-neutral and could create cost savings.”

GOP lawmakers’ arguments against funding the expansion at this point boil down to “we don’t want to spend the money.” That argument should be regarded as little more than stonewalling.

The federal government will pay 90% of the expansion. Medicaid expansion is the law of the land in Missouri. Putting the proposal before the committee in this manner to cut funding out from under it is wrong-headed. This effort is undemocratic and, frankly, a violation of the oath the committee members swore to “support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office.”

We are disappointed but not surprised, given that Smith has opposed other measures approved by voters through the initiative petition process — including introducing a bill to delay the minimum wage increase approved by voters — and voiced support for greater limits on the process.

In a statement Friday, Smith said that he was filing “a bill to use these funds to support seniors in nursing homes and provide care for the developmentally disabled … expand mental health programs, add public defenders to the criminal justice system, and boost K-12 school transportation funding.”

All are worthy causes that do not absolve Smith or other lawmakers of their responsibility for Medicaid expansion under the constitution.

The full House will soon debate the budget in floor sessions. The matter isn’t finished, and the Senate can always do the responsible thing by restoring the funding if the House will not.

We urge lawmakers to respect the will of the voters and honor their oaths of office by providing the funding required.

And voters should remember the effort to kill expanded coverage as it began, to deny medical care to the uninsured who are now promised coverage in our state constitution.

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