By TIM ROWDEN
Republicans in the Missouri Legislature are proving yet again that they don’t care a whit what the voters of Missouri say. They’ll do what they want, when they want, and the rest of us can just live with it. If we dare to express our opinions at the ballot box, they’ll just ignore it.
If they continue at this pace, they might need to change the state’s motto from “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law” to “Let the will of the people be damned.”
Two of the most glaring examples are this year’s attempt – yet again – to make Missouri a so-called “Right-to-Work” (RTW) state, and Republicans’ refusal to fund Medicaid expansion.
In 2018, Missourians united together and defeated “Right-to-Work” (RTW) by a huge 67.47 percent margin.
Now Senate Bill 118 (SB 118), sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison (R-Springfield), would again try to make Missouri a so-called RTW state. A separate but closely related bill, SB 244, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder (R-St. Charles) would enact “paycheck deception.”
Missouri’s Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft recently approved Initiative Petition 2022-004 for circulation, allowing its anti-union backers to begin collecting signatures to put a measure on the 2022 ballot to make RTW part of the Missouri constitution.
RTW laws gut unions by making it illegal to require all workers in a unionized workplace to pay union dues, allowing non-union employees to get the same protections and benefits of union membership without dues paying or a nominal “fair share” fee to cover the costs of representation. Without dues to cover expenses and legal fees, unions are hard pressed to bargain and negotiate collectively for decent wages and benefits and safety or defend workers against unfair discipline or termination.
“Paycheck Deception” laws are designed to create the same weakening of unions. Rather than making it completely illegal to require unionized workers to pay union dues, paycheck deception laws require workers to opt-in annually to have their union dues withdrawn from their paychecks.
They sound different, but the end results are the same.
Republicans in the Missouri Legislature, and their corporate backers, have turned union busting into a seasonal sport, as predictable as spring training and the start of baseball season.
Of course, union busting isn’t Missouri Republicans’ only pastime. They also enjoy the blood sport of denying healthcare to poor Missourians.
Amendment 2, approved by voters last August, requires the state to extend Medicaid coverage to approximately 275,000 Missouri with annual incomes of up to $17,744 for an individual or $35,670 for a family of four, who cannot afford health insurance.
Voters very clearly said they wanted the state to expand Medicaid coverage –– they demanded it. And the governor and state legislature are constitutionally required to do it.
That is, unless Republicans can find or create a loophole to avoid it.
A FALSE NARRATIVE
The House Budget Committee voted March 25 against spending the $1.9 billion necessary to expand Medicaid coverage.
Missouri Republicans have raged against expanding Medicaid in the state since passage of the Affordable Care Act, and they aren’t about to let something as inconsequential as a popular vote or the state constitution force them to do so.
House Budget Committee Chairman Cody Smith (R-Carthage) says the Medicaid program already costs too much and needs changes to control costs and streamline services.
The committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Peter Merideth of St. Louis, said Republicans are creating a false narrative to avoid doing what voters have told them to do.
The state has a healthy financial balance, he says, and will bear a minimal portion of the cost to expand the program.
“Stop acting like we don’t have money because you don’t want to give health care to people,” Merideth told Republicans on the committee. “It is a lie and ignoring what Missourians told us to do.”
The American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion federal relief bill signed by President Joe Biden on March 11, includes major incentives for any state that expands Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty guideline under the Affordable Care Act.
For Missouri, the federal funding would amount to $1.15 billion to support the existing Medicaid program, increasing the federal share by five percent and producing a savings for the state of more than $1 billion over the next two years.
In addition, Missouri presently has a record budget surplus. The state’s general revenue fund stood at $1.9 billion on March 1 and is expected to have $1.1 billion unspent at the end of the fiscal year. The federal stimulus bill includes an additional $2.8 billion in general support for Missouri state spending.
THEY COULD DO BETTER
Expanding Medicaid will create a healthier state, provide financial support for providers – particularly rural hospitals – and make for a stronger economy through job creation.
Missouri could easily expand Medicaid coverage without crippling the state financially.
Missouri Republicans could set aside their long-sought goals of bankrupting and breaking unions.
They could make Missouri a better place for workers, their families and the working poor by doing the jobs they were elected to do.
They just don’t want to.