What they're saying…

Friday, February 1, 2008

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Missouri newspapers:

Jan. 29

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Bellefontaine Habilitation Center:

Protecting the severely disabled Missourians who live at Bellefontaine Habilitation Center shouldn't be a game of hot potato, but sometimes it resembles one.

After a failed federal inspection of the facility last summer, Missouri's Department of Mental Health announced a plan to hand off care for most residents to private groups and agencies.

Ultimately, the state maintained, moving people from a state-run facility to smaller group homes in the community would save money and improve residents' lives.

No doubt it was seductive to believe that there was a simple solution to caring for people whose mental and physical challenges are so profound.

Surely the private sector could do so at less cost and, at the same time, relieve the state of the problems of abuse and neglect that have dogged Bellefontaine and other state-operated facilities for the mentally and developmentally disabled.

As it turns out, privatization is no magic bullet. State officials last week said that they had been unable to find private agencies that were qualified to handle the demanding assignment and willing to do it for the money available.

The first to be affected by this turn of events are 125 Bellefontaine employees who will be laid off in coming weeks. State legislators who already had promised to examine the privatization plan closely may well use the job cuts to focus fresh attention on Bellefontaine's future.

Keith Schafer, director of Missouri's Department of Mental Health, said Bellefontaine residents still will receive adequate care because staffing levels had remained needlessly high as the population fell from about 300 in 2005 to 161 today. ...

Schafer said last week that the department will pursue its plans for construction of a new, 52-bed facility at Bellefontaine, mostly for residents requiring the greatest level of care. ...

Whatever the eventual fate of Bellefontaine, the safety of vulnerable people who are severely disabled is a bedrock responsibility of state government.

It cannot be handed off like a hot potato to private agencies or excused by a lack of money or staff.

Lawmakers should take a very long look at Bellefontaine and other state habilitation centers at which abuse and neglect have been recurring problems. The Department of Mental Health is not the only state entity that bears responsibility for what goes on there.

Jan. 27

Columbia Daily Tribune, on roads and bridges:

It's not an exciting subject, but in their coming session state lawmakers must get the issue of future road and bridge funding front and center.

Sen. John Loudon, R-Chesterfield, proposes a constitutional amendment earmarking 10 percent of general revenue growth each year to the Missouri Department of Transportation.

As a general good/bad government proposition, earmarking operating funds in the state constitution is a bad idea, but when legislators persistently fail to fund important programs, the temptation grows.

Missouri is traditionally a low-tax, low-spend state. We can afford to spend more on roads and bridges, but at a time when motor fuel prices are pushing record highs, raising per-gallon taxes is not popular. ...

One reason the state faces a transportation funding crisis is because a similar proposition approved by voters in 2004 that diverted millions in existing motor fuel tax money from other general revenue uses to direct funding of transportation infrastructure is running out.

Back then Amendment 3 was promoted as ''new'' money for MoDOT without a tax increase, but, just as Loudon's amendment would do, it got additional funding by shifting money from other spending priorities.

Promoted in a similar way, Loudon's new amendment might appeal to voters. Sometimes politicians find it easier to increase state spending by targeting a popular program, then trusting time to replenish lost revenue elsewhere in the budget, or they might not worry about squeezing other budget items.

We have mixed feelings about Loudon's initiative.

It seems to hold the best promise of increased funding of any scheme currently on the table. We will have time to discuss it as it makes its way through the General Assembly. We must do something. Anyone have a better idea?

Jan. 27

Jefferson City News-Tribune, on Blunt not running for second term:

Gov. Matt Blunt has made an unprecedented decision.

He announced last week that he would not seek re-election to a second term. ...

Although Blunt never announced he would seek a second term, the prevailing wisdom was that he simply was being coy.

The assumption that Blunt would run again was based not only on past history, but on a number of other factors.

Blunt said he was not seeking re-election because he had accomplished in one term what he had set out to do and no longer felt a ''sense of mission.''

His decision and reasoning are refreshing, but are so at odds with convention that public skepticism is inevitable. That skepticism has manifested itself in a variety of theories. They include:

The Yoko Ono theory. Like people who still believe Yoko's influence on John Lennon led to the breakup of the Beatles, some theorists believe first lady Melanie Blunt influenced her husband's decision. The executive office demands much time and attention, and Blunt is both husband and father of a toddler. He cited spending more time with family as a contributing factor, but denied it was the deciding factor.

The bigger and better deal theory. Subscribers to this theory believe the governor is stepping aside to clear the way for elevation to higher office.

A prevalent version of this theory postulates that Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond will retire, Blunt would name his father, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, to the Senate post, then be named to his father's congressional seat. The quit while you're ahead theory. With early polls indicating a lead for likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jay Nixon, this theory places Blunt on a pedestal of honor and nobility instead of suffering an inevitable, ignoble defeat.

Which theory do we embrace?

We suspect aspects of each were considered by the govurnor, but -- based on existing evidence -- none of the theories can be proved.

We must be content, therefore, to take the governor at his word.

Jan. 26

The Kansas City Star, on Blunt's legislative agenda:

Missouri lawmakers should pursue Gov. Matt Blunt's proposals to help children and low-income working adults this session.

Because of the governor's announcement that he won't seek re-election, his legislative agenda could suffer.

In some cases, that would be just fine.

The governor's call for a constitutional amendment to limit the authority of judges, for example, is a bad idea.

However, Blunt in his budget recommendations finally suggested that legislators start repairing holes they put in the safety net for the poor and children in 2005. The proposed improvements in health care and social services should find favor, along with better funding of education.

In 2005, legislators and the governor forced 100,000 Missourians, including 25,000 children, off state health insurance. This created hardships for many low-income families, single mothers and individuals with disabilities who depended on state help.

Blunt's current proposals don't go far enough to fix the damage done in the first year of his administration. However, they represent movement in the right direction. Legislators will need to approve sufficient funding to do the job right.

Among the proposals that should pass:

Expand the state Children's Health Insurance program to cover 3,700 more children.

Restore dental and vision services to Medicaid coverage.

Assist more working parents with health coverage, and subsidize coverage for small businesses so they can offer it to their employees.

Improve foster-care payments.

Blunt said he had done all he wanted to do as governor. But most work remains to be finished.

He stands a better chance of ending his four-year term well if he continues to push for improvements -- and persuades lawmakers to find the money to pay for them.