Jefferson City dysfunction on full display this year

The Examiner

Leaders of Missouri’s General Assembly would do well to drop their self-congratulatory language about the legislative session that just ended. Doing some homework late and leaving much else incomplete doesn’t get you on the honor roll. 

Four quick examples: 

• Missouri may finally start collecting sales taxes on online sales – the last state in the country to do so. This issue has put local businesses at a disadvantage for years. The courts clarified the path forward years ago, but our legislators year after year found an excuse to dally. Finally taking a step that is straightforward and a matter of fairness and common sense is no cause for celebration. It doesn’t kick in until 2023, so there’s still time for legislative mischief. 

• It’s much the same with a statewide prescription drug monitoring program, which helps get a grip on the opioid crisis. Again, the need has been clear for years. A bill has been proposed for years. Again, Missouri is the last state to act. More people and families have suffered in the interim. 

• Legislators deserve credit for finally doing something they previously claimed they could not possibly do on their own: raise the gas tax and start fixing roads and bridges. Missouri’s gas tax is one of the lowest in the country, and now over several years it will be increased to get it more in line with other states. This is one of Gov. Mike Parson’s highest stated priorities, and it’s good to see some action. There is no reason – none beyond the internal, insulated logic of Jefferson City – for this to have taken so long. 

• For more than a decade, legislators have flatly refused to expand Medicaid in line with federal policy and funding. So, the voters in 2020 wrote Medicaid expansion into the state Constitution, a move to provide health coverage for about 275,000 people, largely working, low-income adults.  

Parson acknowledged the will of the people in his proposed budget, but legislators refused to fund what the voters mandated. That’s poor policy, and it breaks faith with the voters. 

Many times, political stunts disguised as legislation make their way out of the Missouri House, leaving it to the Senate to act more deliberately and responsibly. The chatter out of Jefferson City weeks ago was that Medicaid expansion would follow that pattern and the Senate would support the governor’s plan. After the showboating, sound policy would win out. 

In this space, we questioned that at the time. As it turns out, the Senate was as obstinate at the House. 

As this unfolded, did Gov. Parson get in there and fight for the people who voted for Medicaid, for the people who for years have paid their federal taxes for this expanded service, for the people who need health care? He did not. 

Now the litigation has begun. How much will the state spend – waste, that is – on attorneys to continue to fight the expressed will of the people?  

Catching up is not the same as progress. Wasting money to oppose the voters is neither progress nor good government. But here’s the thing: Not one legislator will pay any political price for any of these delays or stall tactics, and they know that. Missourians must demand better and be willing to hold officeholders into account.