JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX/Capitol Bureau) – Much of the attention of this legislative session has focused on Gov. Jay Nixon’s failed efforts for Medicaid expansion.
But there is another side to the story.
Despite an overwhelming Republican majority in both the House and Senate, Nixon has scored some major victories.
On the last day of the session, the legislature sent him a bill to establish an early childhood program in public schools that would start before kindergarten.
“We need to start early,” Nixon told lawmakers in his State of the State address in January. “The first few years of a child’s development have an impact that lasts a lifetime.”
Lawmakers also approved Nixon’s call for rebuilding the state’s dilapidated Mental Health Hospital in Fulton.
Nixon got his call for major funding for education, although some of the increase will require a growth in tax collections higher than legislative budget leaders expect.
Increases for higher education budgets are big enough that Nixon can continue his demands on public universities to not raise tuition.
But beyond budget matters, some of Nixon’s biggest priorities made little or no headway in the legislature. And on top of that, his veto of the tax-cut bill for which he had campaigned across the state was overridden during the session.
Adding salt to the wound, his own party’s Senate leader was helping lay the groundwork for an override if Nixon vetoed the massive rewrite of the state’s criminal laws that Nixon had questioned.
But the biggest legislative loss for Nixon was Medicaid. It was a cause he has traveled across the state to champion for more than a year.
There was some movement in the House on restructuring the Medicaid system with more emphasis on managing health care access services and services for recipients.
But in the Senate, the idea of expansion had absolutely no chance.
From nearly the start of the session, fiscal conservatives in the Senate vowed that Medicaid expansion would not pass their chamber. They all but promised a filibuster, which actually happened in the last week when a brief Medicaid effort was made in the Senate.
The opposition came from some of the Senate’s more influential members including the Appropriations Committee chair. These are not folks that fellow Republicans would go up against with a motion to shut off debate.
Other defeats for Nixon included his repeated calls for cutting back on the rapidly growing array of tax credits for developers, reimposing the voter-approved limits on campaign contributions and toughening ethics standards.
The legislature did address his call for dealing with unaccredited schools, but they added a private-school funding option Nixon has opposed strongly enough that he’s left open the possibility of a veto.
The Republican super majority in the legislature clearly was a major factor for the frustrations of the Democratic governor.
And it is a much more disciplined GOP caucus than in years past.
A Republican lawmaker complained about the intense party pressure to vote the Republican line against the tax cut veto. One of the Republicans who had voted to support the governor’s tax veto last year had his nomination for a state job blocked this year by Senate Republicans in retaliation.
This partisan rigidity has grown in the Democratic caucus as well.
The one Democrat who voted against Nixon’s tax-cut veto promptly was stripped by the House Democratic leader of all his committee assignments. Earlier this year, the all-Democrat Legislative Black Caucus chair was forced out after appearing at a news conference with the Republican lieutenant governor.
Nixon has not helped his cause with the legislature.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle complain about the lack of personal involvement by Nixon in the legislative process. He came under blistering public attack from a couple of Senate Democrats for not being personally engaged in the education bill.
Department directors and agency staff rarely are seen anymore in legislative hallways working with legislators.
The exception is the state’s budget director. Maybe that’s part of the reason Nixon’s successes have been with budget issues, but not in other areas.
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