Perspective: Budget testimony heard; Capitol disrepair examined

Throughout this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee took public testimony on the state budget. This is a critically important component of the budget process as it gives the committee the opportunity to hear first-hand a broad range of citizen input on a variety of topics.

While lobbyists and associations will always have a vested interest in a particular topic or budget line, I always find it interesting and impressive when individual citizens take the time to come to the Capitol, appear before a committee and candidly share their experiences and insights. Quite frankly, this is how I believe our founding fathers intended our government to work. Of course they also had the rightful expectation, as do you, that elected officials would actually listen to this input and act accordingly.

As the budget process advances, the appropriations committee will continue to keep a close eye on revenue collections and how they compare to consensus revenue estimates in the current fiscal year so that we can better plan for expenditures next year. As I noted earlier in this session, the governor’s proposed budget is built upon very optimistic numbers and the receipt of a slug of federal money that contains a multitude of strings and constraints. Common sense and personal experience dictate that we craft a responsible budget based upon realistic numbers.

An essential component of citizen participation in government is the building in which government resides. The Missouri Capitol is the people’s building and has served this purpose for nearly 100 years. While it remains a beautiful, impressive and imposing structure, those of you who are familiar with the building also know that the Capitol is showing its age in many ways and needs substantial attention.

Last Thursday, I joined legislative leaders of both parties on a tour of some of the lesser-seen parts of the Capitol. During this tour we saw drip pans that had been forged and welded to divert the streams of water that would otherwise pour into offices with each rain. We also saw historical artifacts that had been moved because of their exposure to excess moisture.

This is a proud and tough building, but even the proudest and the toughest need attention. For too long, we have neglected this attention to the seat of government in Missouri. We must work within budget constraints and appropriately prioritize the needs of the building amongst the other needs of the state. However, it is important that we maintain this building so that it can continue to be the people’s building for another hundred years.

On Wednesday, the Senate voted on the issue of Medicaid expansion for the first time this year. The measure was offered as an amendment to another bill and failed by a substantial margin. I voted against the amendment because all it would have done is add 300,000 people to the Medicaid rolls. There was no discussion about how to transform the current system to eliminate abuses and ensure that Missourians who really need the services are getting them. Additionally, there was no discussion on how Missouri will cover the costs of these additional enrollees once the federal money, the great enticement for expansion, is reduced or goes away completely. The amendment did not contemplate that one day the federal spigot, running freely with your tax dollars, will have be turned down significantly or shut off completely.

I have met with many groups who are passionately in favor of Medicaid expansion as well as many groups who are passionately opposed to Medicaid expansion. This is clearly an issue that tugs at social and fiduciary responsibilities and must be considered in light of both. This is sure to be the first of many discussions about Medicaid expansion in Missouri, discussions in which I will gladly and actively participate. However, these discussions must consider and address two things before we can have substantive debate about expansion: 1) how we reform the current system to increase efficiency and effectiveness, and 2) how the state will pay for expanded services when federal money is reduced or removed. It is a perilous and dangerous position to assume that the federal government will do anything well and we put ourselves in financial and social danger if we fail to thoroughly examine, account for, and debate the real and potential effects of expansion.

My purpose and my intent is to serve the constituents of the 6th Senatorial District. If you are in the Capitol during the coming weeks and months, please stop by your office in Room 220.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th District.

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