The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 28, 2013

Gov. Nixon: Medicaid expansion ‘good, right thing to do’

By Eli Yokley

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday night laid out his proposal to expand Medicaid to more than 300,000 Missourians — a direct rejection of legislative Republicans who have repeatedly vowed to block such a move.

Nixon’s proposal — which pulls dollars provided by the 2010 federal health care law — calls for the state to accept nearly $1 billion in federal funds during fiscal year 2014 to expand the program.

“Will we bring the tax dollars Missourians send to Washington back home to Missouri, or will we let them be spent in other states instead?” Nixon asked in his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly. “Other states would get the benefits; we’d get the bill.”

Nixon — pointing to support from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Missouri Hospital Association, and to action by states like Arizona, North Dakota, New Mexico and Nevada, all with Republican governors — said expansion of Medicaid is both a “good thing to do” and the “right thing to do.”

The issue will be a major point of contention between Nixon, a Democrat, and the General Assembly, which was sent to Jefferson City with a historic Republican supermajority.

Republicans have long cited their fear that the federal government — which is supposed to fund the proposal in full for the next three years, before gradually shifting down to 90 percent by 2020 — would shift further below its pledge. Nixon, in an attempt to quell that concern, said he would be supportive of an automatic rollback on parts of the expansion if the federal funds were lessened.

House Speaker Tim Jones, speaking to reporters after the governor’s address, said he is concerned about the idea of expanding the Medicaid program, and he fears that an attempt to roll back the program if the federal government did reduce its funding simply would not work.

Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, the majority floor leader, said he is waiting for the federal government to offer more flexibility for Medicaid expansion. He said there has been no position on expansion from his caucus just yet.

“We keep thinking there’s going to be a change of what is coming out of Washington, D.C.,” Richard said.

As Nixon began his full-fledged push for Medicaid expansion, he did so with the support of leaders in the business community from across the state — asking nearly a dozen representatives of business groups to stand during his remarks.

Richard, asked whether the business community’s support of the proposal moved him, said frankly: “They don’t have to pay for it. They can believe what we want; we still have to govern.”

Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, said the governor is talking in the direction of Missouri Republicans, but he wants to see a bill before agreeing with any specific parts of Nixon’s proposal.

“I think that whether it is the governor’s plan or our plan, nobody is saying we aren’t going to come up with something,” Lant said. “Whatever we decide on is going to need to have some type of escape mechanism in case the government does not comply.”

Medicaid expansion was a key pillar of Nixon’s proposed $25.7 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2014, which starts July 1.

Another pillar of the governor’s agenda was education expansion. His 2014 budget proposal includes $1 million in new funding to expand the state’s A+ Scholarship program statewide, as well as $34 million in new funding for higher education based on achievement. Missouri Southern State University would receive an extra $779,775 from Nixon’s budget, and he has designated $142,674 in additional funds for Crowder College.

Missouri Southern President Bruce Speck was in Jefferson City on Monday for a briefing with Nixon on the state’s higher education funding system.

Nixon also posed expanding the state’s early childhood education system — marking an additional $10 million for the Missouri Preschool Project and $3.5 million for Early Head Start programs. For K-12 education, Nixon said he is in favor of extending the school year by one week to the national average of 180 days. His budget includes a $66 million increase in funding for public schools.

As he has in previous years, Nixon also renewed a call to reinstate campaign finance limits on candidate committees. Such limits were repealed by the General Assembly in 2008.

“The single most destructive force in our system is unlimited money,” Nixon said. “We must reinstitute strict campaign contribution limits.”

Nixon, himself, has been a significant beneficiary of large contributions. In the 28 days before his speech, he received more than $200,000 in checks of more than $10,000. During his campaign, he accepted a single donation of $500,000 from the Democratic Governors Association.

Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, said Nixon’s proposal was hypocritical.

“The call for ethics reform coming from an elected official with the history of excessive contributions from special interest groups is hypocritical,” he said.

Davis, who serves as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said he hoped to hear more from the governor on the state’s veterans courts, which aim to help veterans recover from the stresses of combat.