Spring is here. You can tell because the budgets are budding. But it's never long before the blooms drop off, poisoned from within.
Here's an example: Citing some kind of technicality on budget rules, Republicans in the Missouri House of Representatives decided not to give health-care coverage to poor kids. Last Thursday, Rep. Jonas Hughes held a press conference at Operation Breakthrough, an organization that helps children living in poverty, to protest the Legislature's cruel balk.
Lots of TV cameras showed up and recorded adorable children holding up signs begging legislators: "Please don't target us with Missouri budget cuts!"
The protest's press release read, in part: "The budget rejects a three-to-one match of federal funds that would provide low-cost insurance for an additional 27,000 children in Missouri. So, to save $22 million, the proposed budget surrenders $60 million in matching funds."
The only local Republican on the House Budget Committee is Rep. Ryan Silvey, who told Pitch editor C.J. Janovy last week that he tried to restore some of the coverage. Last year, Silvey explained, he pushed through a change that let more kids get treatment under the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Before, kids who were presumed to be eligible for SCHIP coverage could seek treatment only at four children's hospitals. Silvey was able to secure $2.2 million to expand the program so that those kids could be seen at 400 locations around the state, including regular hospitals and rural health centers.
Silvey thought he could get the money this year, too, but his amendment was defeated. He's still holding out hope that he can find the money somewhere before the Legislature finalizes its budget May 8.
"His heart was in the right place," Hughes said of Silvey's effort, "but we knew they [his fellow Republicans] wouldn't let him do it."
Why have Republicans rejected more health insurance for kids? Isn't it possible that some of the Missourians who are losing their jobs — and their health insurance — in this terrible economy might be Republicans?
"They just have a bone to pick with social services," Hughes said after the press conference. "They're of the mind-set that you should be able to do for yourself. They're really out of touch with the reality of today's world."
You, down there, in the pothole — ahoy! Keep your nose above the water because half a billion dollars are coming, and we're going to get you out. Maybe. Someone will be with you shortly. Are you shovel-ready, or do you have time for a story? Of course you do. This one starts with some facts and figures and doesn't have much of an ending yet, but someone in your position will wanna know this stuff.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (also known as "the bailout," "the stimulus plan" or "porkulus") is very clear in its requirements regarding the funding of road and bridge projects. The Missouri Department of Transportation will receive $577 million of federal cashola to distribute to projects if (1) the projects can get under way in 90 days or less, (2) they will take no more than three years to complete, (3) they create jobs, and (4) they are located in economically distressed areas.
Officially, an economically distressed area as one where the per capita income is 80 percent or less of the national average or the unemployment rate is at least 1 percent greater than the national average. Only 14 of Missouri's 110 counties don't qualify as economically distressed.
Why, then, has MoDOT doled out $199 million of its allocation — 39 percent — to places that aren't economically depressed? And if one of the goals is to create jobs, why has MoDOT allocated this money the same way it allocates its usual funds — 60 percent to rural areas and 40 percent to urban — when 50 percent of Missouri's population lives in Kansas City and St. Louis?
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was hotter than fresh asphalt about his county's original $58 million allocation and complained to anyone who would listen, including CNN. As a result, a few more projects have been approved, raising St. Louis' allocation to $67 million. Meanwhile, Kansas City is expecting only $27,304,447 to devote to projects. Has Mayor Mark Funkhouser raised any stink with MoDOT? Or contacted it at all?
"Not to my knowledge," says Laura Holloway, who works in MoDOT's community relations department. She defends MoDOT's Economic Recovery Project, explaining that the rule about funding projects in economically distressed areas is "just one of a long list of regulations and requirements" that MoDOT had to consider.
U.S. Congressman Sam Graves, a Republican whose 6th District contains three counties considered too affluent for the "distressed" qualification, was "disgusted" by President Barack Obama's economic stimulus bill. No matter: His district's not-distressed Andrew County is still receiving $365,000 in road work, according to the draft plan.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver says he's fighting for more 5th District money. "When the initial list was released, Missouri's 5th District was slated to receive $44 million in stimulus dollars for two major projects," he told Pitch staff writer Nadia Pflaum in an e-mail. "Since I started complaining, we are up to $69 million and five major projects. It is progress, but I think we should still be getting more and I am making that case."
He adds that if every state allocated its stimulus funds as MoDOT has, the intent of President Obama's entire plan could be at risk. "For all the games and pontificating on this issue on both sides of the aisle, we all need the stimulus to work or we'll be staring at 10-plus-percent unemployment. That is my main concern."
Street of dreams or road to ruin? Don't worry. Leave it to your elected officials. Hey, are you still there?
But enough about how Missouri institutions reward your hopes with a poke in the eye. It's spring — time for Royals baseball!
The team has invited journeyman right-hander Sidney Ponson to camp, adding, Pitch staff writer David Martin notes, another colossal jerk to the players whom general manager Dayton Moore has worked to acquire. Ponson isn't much of a pitcher anymore, either.
Moore cultivates a squeaky-clean image. Last year, he and manager Trey Hillman talked about their faith at a special chapel at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. When Moore arrived in town, he promised Kansas City Star sports columnist Joe Posnanski that he would stock the clubhouse with guys who helped little old ladies carry their groceries. "I would not draft or sign anyone unless I believed in his character," Moore said.
Today, Moore's quote stands as one of the most hollow things a Kansas City sports figure has ever said.
Let's look at the record.
So far, he has signed slugger Jose Guillen, whom the Angels released in the heat of a pennant drive, to a free-agent contract. And he snatched up Alberto Callaspo from Arizona after the infielder was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his wife. (No charges were filed.) Moore also attempted to trade for Milton Bradley, a switch-hitting anger-management issue.
Ponson is synonymous with the word incident (as well as with hefty). He was charged with punching a judge in Aruba and is the veteran of two drunken-driving convictions.
He should fit right in among Moore's dirty recruits. Guillen did or said something stupid at seemingly every homestand last year, and his on-base percentage was terrible. Callaspo took a two-month medical leave after getting popped for DUI in Kansas City.
If Ponson and his Ty Cobb temperament represent Moore's idea of character, no wonder Hillman acts a little chippy from time to time. Maybe Moore has a future in Missouri politics.
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