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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Nixon's Plane Truth

[ Patrick Tuohey ]

Governor Jay Nixon—we are not making this up—bought a plane. The King Air 250 cost $5.6 million, seats up to ten passengers in addition to crew and has a range of 1,610 miles. Its manufacturer goes on to say that,

With a spacious, handcrafted interior, the King Air 250 is remarkably versatile and comfortable. New ergonomic yokes and a standard lighted chart holder increase crew comfort, while the square-oval cabin provides passengers with generous head and shoulder room. Elegant interior touches make the King Air 250 a serious business solution with outstanding amenities to match. 

Sounds nice, but not everyone is impressed. The News-Tribune editorialized on the purchase thusly,

We appreciate the desire of the governor — or any governor — to remain close to constituents, but let’s be candid about much of this travel.

Many of the governor’s flights are self-serving, dog-and-pony show photo opportunities.

The chief executive is dunning his own departments to stave off spending from his own budget. It’s a pathetic practice and poor public policy.

State Democrats are also not pleased. We imagine one of them must be Sen. Claire McCaskill who sold her own "damn" plan at a loss for $1.9 million in 2011. We did some quick research and came up with the following table comparing the two planes.

 
   McCaskill Pilatus PC-12
 Nixon King Air 250
 Passengers  9  10
 Cruise speed
 312.5 MPH
 356.8 MPH
 Range  1,753 miles
 1,610 miles
 Cost  $1.9 million
 $5.6 million

It looks like Nixon could have saved a few million dollars and gotten a comparable plane and even helped McCaskill break even. But don't worry, it's not like he was spending his own money—he was spending yours.

UPDATE: Missourinet reports that Sen. Brad Lager says of the purchase that,

some aircraft owner-friends of his have told him they “never would have even thought of buying a brand new aircraft right now because on the used market right now they’re paying 35 to 38 cents on the dollar.”

1/23/2013 5:08:25 PM

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Kansas City’s Financial Plan: There Is No Plan

[ Patrick Tuohey ]

[This post originally appeared on the Show-Me Daily blog.]

Since 2003, Kansas City’s spending has increased by 42 percent, raising the city’s debt to a whopping $1.6 billion (from $517 million in 2003). The city’s population has grown just 4.2 percent in that same time. But there appears to be no plan to halt the spending.

Instead, it appears officials are willing to consider spending even more of the citizens’ taxpayer dollars, not on necessary services, but on items such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and light rail.

Kansas City’s Citizens’ Association, self-described as the city’s oldest non-partisan community organization, presented the astonishing numbers and an analysis of the city’s long-term financial future at a forum on Thursday. Association Chairman Dan Cofran developed a daunting, two-page primer on city finances.

The Association reported that Fitch Ratings downgraded its outlook on Kansas City’s credit to negative. That downgrade does not include the recent Kansas City taxes or the impending 15 percent annual water rate increase to cover a mandated sewer renovation.

Something needs to be done but officials do not appear to know how or where to start, and did not present any concrete plans to address the situation.

Panelists such as Kansas City Councilwoman Jan Marcason and City Manager Troy Schulte only agreed that the city must make the tough decisions that it has failed to do in the past, such as revamping the sewers. However, what those tough decisions might be were barely discussed. Marcason also declined to cite examples of spending that the City Council has rejected.

Even worse, Kansas City seems to have no serious plan for responding to Kansas’ recent tax reductions and eliminations. In fact, Schulte said Kansas City should not “race to the bottom” on taxation and suspected that Kansans would grow to regret the cuts. Again, no plan was introduced to counter Kansas’ recent business-friendly actions.

Panelists did share the view that limits voters have placed on them — such as term limits and requiring approval of the earnings tax every five years — are burdensome. The panel failed to recognize that taxpayers took those steps to try to rein in spending and approvals for every project seeking tax incentives.

Cofran continuously asked how citizens might enforce any long-term strategic plan. Marcason suggested only “working together.” If past actions and this event are any indication, few city elected officials are willing to work together, develop a plan, or make any tough decisions.

1/22/2013 8:39:29 AM

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Voters' Rebel Yell

[ Patrick Tuohey ]

The Kansas City Star's Yael Abouhalkah wrote a piece the other day in which he listed the sales taxes paid in various part of the metro area. Our own piece on Big Mac taxes found that KC had a higher rate than New York City. At the end of his piece, Abouhalkah lamented that,

The sales tax has become the funder of choice for many projects in this area. Don’t expect that to change — until voters rebel when they decide rates have soared too high.

I don't know what Abouhalkah is expecting, exactly. Voters have been rebelling for years—with their feet. Our public school district has about 14,000 students, down from 75,000 at its peak. (They haven't all moved to parochial schools.) Kansas City's share of the regional population and jobs has been declining as Kansas' suburbs grow. Kansas City's use of TIF's and economic development to spur net job growth is a complete failure.

Of course it's not just high taxes chasing people away, it's also a lack of the services those taxes are supposed to provide (infrastructure, safety and education). Don't forget the steep and continuing tax of sorts imposed on us by the EPA in the form of higher water and sewage rates. Everyone who lives in KC knows of a neighbor who moved across the state line or just beyond the city limits to escape the high cost—and low performance—of government.

Kansas City's problems aren't manifesting themselves in angry voters marching on City Hall but in their marching away.

1/11/2013 10:12:26 AM

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nixon's First Stand

[ Patrick Tuohey ]
While Missouri Republicans celebrate an increased majority in the General Assembly and a new party chairman, Jason Hancock over at the Star reports that Nixon appears likely to move to the left. Nixon, according to the story, spent his first term,

steer[ing] clear of direct confrontation with legislative Republicans, who for the last decade have dominated the General Assembly. If anything, lawmakers complained he shared his thoughts on legislation only after it landed on his desk.

Liberals have been frustrated by Nixon and his unwillingness to get involved in issues important to them. They likely are arguing that those veto-proof Republican majorities in the Assembly were caused by Nixon's failure to provide a clear alternative. To make matters worse, his campaign for re-election painted him as a conservative, taking credit for things the legislature did. But now liberals are being told to expect great things from him.

The story suggests that Nixon's priority in his first term was getting re-elected. But now that he's term limited, well, it's another ballgame.

Re-election means four more years of “opportunity to get things done,” Nixon said, but term limits mean that’s the end of it. After nearly three decades in state government, his time is running out.

Read that again. Nixon has spent almost 30 years in state government, but now he's serious about getting things done. Things beside re-election, that is. Well, sorta. According to longtime friend Chuck Hatfield,

“I’ve never met a politician who didn’t want a promotion,” Hatfield said, later adding: “I’d be surprised if Governor Nixon has ruled anything out.”

Think of it as a re-election campaign... to a higher office. Nixon's new rhetoric isn't aimed at Missouri voters; it's aimed at national Democratic leaders. Will Missouri's liberals continue to champion a governor who doesn't champion them?

1/10/2013 10:03:44 AM

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Strong Arm Tactics in the 8th CD

[ Patrick Tuohey ]

The special election to replace Rep. Jo Anne Emerson will be decided by the 86 delegates to Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District Republican committee. (We understand they will be required to show photo ID before casting their vote.) Let's hope the various candidates are less heavy handed than some Poplar Bluff city employees.

The SEMO Times wrote back in November of the Poplar Bluff effort to increase sewer rates by 75% to renovate the existing treatment facility. The city is accused of using strong arm tactics, including police resources, to affect the election outcome. On election day,

an armed officer was dispatched to tear down signs that he claimed were illegal.  The officer then tore down the signs opposing the city’s ballot measure while ignoring other signs without “paid for by” disclaimers. He informed the crowd of poll workers that he was “only supposed to take this sign.”

City officials and police claimed they were acting under the orders of the Missouri Ethics Commission, which denied making any such request or even informing the Poplar Bluff police about any such investigation. Members of the City Council claimed to be unaware of the city's tactics—but it is another lesson that in big cities and small, the interests of city employees aren't always the same interests of taxpayers.

1/9/2013 10:02:17 AM

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