What will be on the ballot in November? That question in Missouri just gets murkier and murkier.



The wrangling over petitions to put various issues on the ballot got so contentious this week that a moment of political candor spilled into the open.

What will be on the ballot in November? That question in Missouri just gets murkier and murkier.

The wrangling over petitions to put various issues on the ballot got so contentious this week that a moment of political candor spilled into the open.

Consider the position of State Auditor Tom Schweich. In addition to checking up on whether various state agencies and local governments are following the law and spending tax money wisely, the auditor’s office has to assess each initiative petition floating around the state – there are dozens this year – to see how each would affect state revenues. That estimate is part of what goes in front of the voters.

Schweich has been batted back and forth like a pingpong ball this spring, with different rulings from different judges, including one ruling now being appealed that the law ordering the estimates is unconstitutional. Lawyers for the special interests wanting to end the state income tax argued against that authority, too. Then lawyers – same lawyers, by the way – for the payday loan industry said, wait, the auditor simply must do the estimates.

Last week Schweich told his staff to just stop altogether, and this week he lashed out at the interests and their attorneys over the contradictory demands. “The payday loan industry,” he said in a statement, “spreads money around Jefferson City like butter, and this is only the latest attempt to protect their 400 percent interest rate on payday loans.” The candor is refreshing, but here’s a note to Schweich: You ran for the office. You knew the deal. So do the job.

It’s possible that Schweich’s non-action plays right into the hands of the very payday loan industry he’s criticizing. That non-action could threaten the viability of the petition drive to place caps on that 400 percent interest. (There are other legal issues, although cap proponents remain outwardly confident.)

A companion proposal pushed by many payday cap proponents would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $7.25 to $8.25 and enact cost-of-living increases in the years ahead. That one appears to have run the legal gantlet and could be headed for the ballot, assuming sufficient signatures are turned in to the state in the coming days. Both issues – payday loan caps and a higher minimum wage – are designed to give the working poor a badly needed financial break, proponents say.

Schweich’s point is well taken (though he needs to do his job). This is one more tortured example of how dysfunctional Jefferson City has become.