Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL220.PRB - Ask the Gubernatorial Candiates
Gov. Jay Nixon leaves the office of Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard May 6 accompanied by security staff. MDN Photo by Mark Hughes
As the Missouri legislative session winds down its 2016 session, I've been thinking about the issues lawmakers have left unresolved.
Those issues present a foundation for questions that could be asked of the candidates who seek to be Missouri's governor for the next four legislative sessions.
A major question involves how the candidates would change their approach with the legislature.
For the past eight legislative sessions, Missouri's governor has been less engaged with lawmakers than governor I've covered in 46 years.
Would the candidates who seek to replace Jay Nixon be more involved with legislators and the legislative process?
Would the candidates encourage or even demand that department directors become public leaders in their areas of expertise and work in partnerships with legislators to craft solutions?
Legislators complain that under the current administration, many department directors and agency experts are uncooperative with legislators.
That limited communication has had a profound effect in the era of term limits that does not provide legislators with enough time in office to gain a full understanding about complicated state issues.
Would the gubernatorial candidates promise to spend most of his or her working hours in the statehouse meeting with agency officials and legislators? Would the candidates agree to make those meetings public as well as frequent?
In the past, some governors engaged with legislators and agency officials in public discussions that helped rally public support.
I started this column with process rather than policy questions because it's been my experience that the least effective governors were those who did not find a way to work with the legislature.
For example, Democrat Bob Holden had some lofty and visionary ideas for our state's future. But he never evolved a process that could deal with a Republican-controlled legislature.
As for the policy issues, financial issues loom large.
What would the next governor do to deal with the state's highway-funding crisis.
The Transportation Department has dropped full maintenance for about three-fourths of state highways because it lacks the funds. Even the gas and diesel fuel increase before the legislature does not raise enough money.
Some transportation advocates have argued a comprehensive solution likely involves a larger motor fuel tax increase, toll roads for the major Interstate corridors and, possibly, abandoning responsibility for local, rural roads that do not serve a statewide transportation purpose.
Education is another financial problem for the next governor. A slow economic recovery has left Missouri more than $450 million below the target lawmakers set just a eleven years ago.
If there are insufficient tax revenues to meet that target, what other specific ideas do the gubernatorial candidates have for improving public education.
What about expanding charter and virtual schools? What about consolidating smaller districts? Missouri has more than 500 school districts.
Legislative budget leaders have blamed the growing cost of Medicaid for the relatively small increase in education funding this year.
So, how would those who seek to be governor control the Medicaid budget?
There have been several ideas that have been floating around the last few years including restrictions on prescription drug coverage, stronger managed care, providing private health insurance as a Medicaid alternative and imposing financial penalties on recipients for inappropriate use of health services such as emergency room visits for non-emergency health issues.
Besides the continually expanding Medicaid budget, during the term of Missouri's next governor, there could be a significant tax cut as a result of that income tax cut lawmakers passed a few years ago.
So, what specific ideas do those seeking to be that next governor have for improving government efficiency? Political candidates regularly talk about efficiency, but what specific ideas do the gubernatorial candidates offer?
What are their thoughts about merging agencies like Natural Resources and Conservation, privatizing some government services or eliminating tax credits for real estate developers that the current governor had proposed.
These are the kind of questions we all should ask -- both you, my readers, and we reporters as well. And we need to demand details rather than sound-good responses without specifics.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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