What they're saying…

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Missouri newspapers:

March 19

Springfield News-Leader, on five years in Iraq:

Over the past couple of months, the News-Leader has developed a tribute to those Missouri soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. At last count, there were 89 of them. ...

No matter your views on the war, and after five years there are many of them, the tribute is important, but difficult, to watch.

Too many of our young men and women have died and we mourn each and every one of them. And meanwhile, we know that many more of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, are still fighting every day to keep us safe, whether it be in Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world.

We're not sure most Americans ever expected the war in Iraq to last this long, and unfortunately, five years later, we still have more questions than we have answers.

How will victory be defined? How long will it take us to extricate ourselves from our complicated occupation? Does looking back at past errors by the Bush administration serve us any purpose as we move forward? How will the next president face political reality at home while following sound military strategy on the ground?

What we can say clearly is that our brave fighting men and women have done us proud. They've faced a committed enemy, and far too many of them have lost their lives.

As the war continues into the ill-defined future, we choose to ignore the politics and honor those Missourians who have lost their lives in battle. Take a few moments and remember the names of those Show Me State neighbors who have fought and died for our freedom.

March 19

St. Joseph News-Press, on government helping out the economy:

Our philosophy of good government is simple and old. The best government is no government. The best government until that is possible is the least amount of government to preserve order and accomplish the common good.

By extension, we also believe the more money government spends, the more it can interfere with your life. Therefore, we salute any effort that attempts to give you back a few bucks that government would otherwise happily consume.

We have two acts of rare governmental good sense this morning. First, the federal government will send this spring's checks of up to $600 to individuals and $1,200 to married couples as part of an economic stimulus package. Households with children will get an additional $300 per child.

Congress, with Democrats and Republicans working together, crafted this rebate package in hopes of giving our struggling economy a kick start. For the plan to work, of course, you need to spend a good chunk of that rebate plan.

The Missouri House appears ready to offer an assist on this score. A House committee endorsed legislation that would exempt all items priced at $600 or less from state and local sales taxes on the weekend of June 27 through June 29.

Critics are always worried about giving up control of even three-days' worth of sales tax revenue, even with restrictions. They worry in this case that consumers could make thousands of dollars worth of purchases as long as the individual bills came in under the $600 ceiling.

We are willing to take that risk. But then our basic philosophy is that you know better how to spend your money than the government does. History also teaches that tax cuts can do more to generate new tax dollars than an aggressive tax philosophy.

March 18

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on federal earmarks:

Missouri is represented by one senator who brings home the bacon and another who wants to nail a lid on the pork barrel. Last week Sen. Pork won, and it wasn't even close.

By a 71-29 vote, the Senate rejected a bid to ban for one year those special appropriations known as ''earmarks.''

On one side of the debate stood Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, and one of the few senators in either party who refuses to seek earmarks. McCaskill argues that earmarking elevates political clout above wise government.

Arguing pro-pork was Missouri Republican Sen. Christopher S. ''Kit'' Bond, one of the grand masters of the game. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a fiscally conservative think tank that tracks earmarks, found his fingerprints on $454 million worth of earmarks in the current budget. That makes him the fourth biggest earmarker in the Senate.

Earmarks are special spending items inserted in spending bills by individual congressmen and senators. This year, they amount to $18 billion worth of roads, bike trails, museum grants and other hometown projects.

But some, perhaps even most, earmarked projects actually are needed public investments, such as the $239 million granted three years ago for a new Mississippi River bridge in downtown St. Louis.

Still the system could use reform. The pork goes disproportionately to the powerful, including House and Senate leaders and members of appropriations committees. Others must come begging, and trading favors, to get a local project on a spending bill.

Bond argued that banning earmarks ''would hand all the power to the same kind of federal bureaucrats who made the decision to send $40 billion of taxpayer dollars to a European-subsidized defense company, instead of American defense workers.''

As McCaskill notes, as earmarks have grown in recent years, merit-based federal grant programs have shrunk.

The nation would be better served if all appropriations were subject to a competitive, merit-based process.

March 17

Southeast Missourian, on Sunshine Week:

In an recent informal, off-the-record conversation with a Southeast Missourian reporter, a low-profile government official was talking about how no one from the public attended board meetings.

He said that's how the government body liked it.

Local government can be odd that way. Generally speaking, those who become involved on boards and councils and commissions do so because they care about their community. More times than not these people have generous hearts and care compassionately about the towns in which they live.

Yet we often find these good people tend to shy away from controversy, which is understandable. But any part of public service includes public communication. It is impossible for a commissioner, councilman or board member to know what's best for a large, diverse group of people without hearing from individuals about their ideas and problems. Likewise, it is impossible for individuals to know if a board or commission is doing what's best for them if the government doesn't communicate with the public.

That's where the Sunshine Law comes in. This week is Sunshine Week across the nation. In Missouri, the open meetings-open records law is called the Sunshine Law. It's what protects the public from government secrecy. It requires government bodies in most cases to open to the public meetings and documents. The law is designed to prevent private deals and eliminate the wink-and-a-nod buddy system that occasionally pervades small-town politics.

Most governments comply, even if reluctantly so. Usually when smaller government bodies violate the Sunshine Law, it's because elected officials aren't familiar with it. This is why we think Sunshine Law training for public servants is a great idea. We also think it's important for the state to have the proper resources to enforce the Sunshine Law.

Missouri's open meetings law isn't for the news media. It's for everyone to have open access to their government. It reinforces a basic principle of our free society: that our government serves us, not the other way around.