Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Last week I drove to Jefferson City for Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Missouri Press Association/Associated Press meetings. The highways were a lot better than expected, another reason to praise the Missouri Department of Transportation. Not only has MoDOT improved our highways over the last three years, but ice and snow clearance has been exceptional, as has been the job done by the Cape Girardeau, Jackson and area road crews.
While in Jefferson City, I heard a 15-minute presentation of the "Missouri turnaround" by House Speaker Rod Jetton of Marble Hill. It was quite impressive, as was his handling of questions.
I'll give some of the highlights later, but I will first address an article in our Friday newspaper about Jetton's comments on some Missourians being lazy (who can question that?) and some Mexicans being hard-working (who can question that?). And obviously the reverse is true.
The setting for his comments was the Missouri governor's historic mansion. The Missouri Press Association is invited each year to the mansion for lunch, remarks by the governor and remarks by the Senate and House majority (in this case, Republicans) and minority (Democrats) leaders.
Because of the sleeting rain and long drives faced by many, Speaker Jetton spent merely four minutes summarizing what were specifics that required 15 minutes the day before.
Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons (who announced the next day he was going to have surgery for the early stage of prostate cancer) also spoke, as did minority House leader Paul LeVota of Independence. There seemed to be a good camaraderie with all.
Much to my surprise, my friend and Southeast Missourian reporter Rudi Keller pulled a printout from his pocket of an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from about two weeks earlier where Jetton had made reference to the aforementioned comment about Mexican and American workers.
And when asked about it, Jetton didn't duck the question. His answer later became a front-page story in our newspaper, where I felt the headline biased his response.
First let me say, as I comment to everyone: Just because a reporter asks a question, you do not have to respond directly to every question you are asked.
However, in this day of "trackers" and YouTube video of every public speech or debate question, the "gotcha" can't always be ducked.
Jetton remarked that in Wayne County -- which has special status as one of the highest (7.9 percent) unemployment rates in Missouri, qualifying the county for some of the highest welfare benefits in the state -- few applied for jobs being advertised at the $8- or $9-an-hour wage range. However, they would do handy jobs when paid in cash which would not jeopardize their welfare status.
In this context he made the remark that some Mexicans are hard-working and some Missourians are lazy, which prompted general laughter and agreement.
But you had to have been there.
In a handout to an estimated 300 county and city elected officials (Republican and Democrats), Speaker Jetton in the previously mentioned 15 minutes of remarks gave the following data to support the "Missouri turnaround."
Here are some examples now with more to follow in another column. I have not heard or seen this data in this concise form in any of our statewide news outlets:
Fiscal year 2007 surplus
The beginning balance for the current fiscal year was nearly $600 million.
In 2003 Missouri had a $1 billion shortfall.
Missouri went from operating under a budget shortfall to balanced budgets and surpluses.
The size of state government
The size of the state government in 2002 was 62,832 employees.
It is currently at 59,982 employees.
For the first time in memory the size of the state bureaucracy is shrinking.
Missouri Medicaid transformation
Number of Medicaid recipients:
2004: 1,001,999 (almost 20 percent of Missouri's population)
General revenue Medicaid expenditures:
2006: $1,179,023,082 -$69,717,143
2007: $1,314,682,054 +$135,658,972
2008: $1,506,731,470 +$192,049,416
2009: $1,616,807,146 +$110,075,676
Total increase: $437,784,064
Even after the changes of Medicaid, Missouri still has the 14th best benefit plan in the nation. We are getting more money and better care to those on Medicaid.
See my column Thursday for more on state government.
Gary Rust is the chairman of Rust Communications.