Missouri government is failing to look out for the long-term interests of businesses and as well as those who want to earn a good paycheck and enjoy a decent standard of living.
I talked for a minute last week with an Independence Board of Education member who had spoken out against the unprecedented firing of state Education Commission Margie Vandeven. That move came last Friday after Gov. Eric Greitens’ months of political comedy to stack the state School Board with members willing to get rid of Vandeven. He wants someone to work in favor of charter schools.
The governor has politicized an issue that should be beyond the normal reach of politics, and he’s short-circuited Vandeven’s work just three years into her time in office. The point, this local school board member told me, was that she was working on the very issues, such as a greater focus on science, technology, engineering and math, that the Independence district has embraced in a high-profile way and to which it has committed significant resources. Those fields represent the jobs of the future.
Now, at the state level, that has to start over.
When I was a kid, my dad taught high school English. This was so long ago that English was still called “English,” not “English language arts,” whatever that means. All of this reminds me of something my dad used to say:
People get elected to the school board because they’re all fired up about one thing. New colors for the band uniforms. The football coach needs to go. Whatever.
Then they get in there and discover – who knew? – that school boards have to deal with budgets, curricula, state rules and all kinds of other stuff. It’s a moment of reckoning.
This is a basic point: Single-issue officeholders are as dangerous to the public good as single-issue voters.
Education matters greatly to our state’s economic vitality. We hear over and over – nationwide and specifically here in Missouri – that employers cannot find the qualified workers they need. Yes, a lot of this is “soft skills,” formerly known as people skills. But a lot of this is a need for basic skills rooted in reading and math. (Plus critical thinking, which rests in the liberal arts. It’s time to stop devaluing that, too.)
There is a good deal of talk from state leaders and others about workforce development. It’s a badly needed discussion, but this isn’t new. This gap has grown for years, was masked for some time by the Great Recession, and now is back in full view. Other than some programs here and there, Missouri is making little real effort.
One more example of falling short of the mark: Missouri has major transportation hubs, but that’s up for grabs as the state again drifts into a period of letting its roads and bridges deteriorate. Business people bring this up regularly, but legislators tune it out.
The Missouri General Assembly’s excuse for no action in 2017 was to appoint a task force, one that is likely to highlight essentially the same problems found by the last big task force five years ago.
That group has been meeting around the state for months. I covered its meeting in July in Kansas City, a meeting mostly taken up by a filibuster by a task force member who wants to start by having MoDOT make cuts that it in fact already made years ago. That did not advance the discussion.
That task force won’t have a report until the end of the year. Legislation for the General Assembly’s 2018 session is being filed now. Waiting until the turning of the new year just to get the report means action is unlikely.
Could a body of 197 legislators read and digest the report, draft and debate legislation and resolve this by mid-May? Yes, a functional legislature with committed leadership could. But, year after year, that’s not the way this legislature has acted.
Oh, it’s also an election year.
Orscheln Farm and Home is coming to Eastern Jackson County. It’s moving into the vacant Price Chopper space at U.S. 40 and Missouri 7 in Blue Springs. Orscheln, based in Moberly, Missouri, has 165 stores in 10 Midwestern and Southern states. The company says it’s signed a lease but gives no opening date. … The Missouri Office of Administration says general revenues are up 3.72 percent through the first five months of the current fiscal year. General revenues make up about one-third of state spending. The biggest chunk of that is income taxes, up 3.66 percent. Sales taxes are up 0.66 percent.
– Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s business editor and reporter. Reach him at 816-350-6313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter @FoxEJC.