Can’t anyone keep Eric Greitens from trashing public education in Missouri?

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Governor Eric Greitens failed this week in his latest attempt to sell out Missouri education – the State Board of Education voted 4-4 not to fire the highly regarded Commissioner of Education, Margie Vandeven. This is remarkable because Greitens hasn’t even tried to hide the fact that he has attempted to pack the board with puppets who will do his political bidding and clear the deck, allowing him to bring a charter and school privatization advocate in from out of state to lead Missouri schools.

Of course this most recent failure does not mean that Vandeven and Missouri’s public School system are home safe. What it has done, though, has allowed us to witness a nasty little temper tantrum from the boy Governor – who seems to take his behavioral cues from our emotionally unstable and truth-challenged President. Not only was the public statement he issued after the vote an exercise in puerile ranting, but he also got lots of his facts wrong, or at the very least, twisted.

Greitens’ diatribe seemed to have two foci: (1) He praises himself, asserting that he’s responsible for putting “more money into schools than ever before in Missouri history.” (Who does that sound like?  Hint, starts with “T.”) (2) He accuses selfish and greedy administrators of grabbing all those extra goodies for themselves. Needless to say, this mix of self-glorification and spite needs to be taken with a grain of salt – make that a great big grain. Make that several great big grains.

Greitens is probably correct that Missouri spends about the national average on our schools. Education Week’s annual 2016 Quality Counts report ranks Missouri 31st in measures of K-12 financing.  Although Greitens toured the state last spring asserting that his budget would increase K-12 spending by 4.1%, Politifact Missouri dug into the facts and put Greitens’ proposed increase at 0. 613%. Some difference, right? It’s not likely that Greitens’ K-12 spending has moved the state too far from its slightly less than mediocre position. Are you satisfied with mediocrity? Evidently Greitens is. Better yet, do you trust a politician who exaggerates and misleads about things like education funding?

As for Greitens’ claim that he and his fellow Republicans have funded K-12 education fully “for the first time in years,” wise folks will keep in mind that that feat was accomplished by changing the funding formula downwards to fit the funds rather than fitting the funds to the established formula. Kinda bass ackwards, as the old guys say.

Nor should we forget that increasing K-12 education at a time when revenues are not adequate to fund state obligations entails not funding other programs. Greitens and his GOP pals threw elementary schools a pittance while decimating higher education. Our colleges and universities still count as “education” last I heard – and as a resource do as much and likely more to foster economic growth in the state than the tax cuts for businesses that Greitens champions.

Finally, I don’t think that there’s much evidence that greedy administrators are really the problem with the resource-starved Missouri schools. A report formulated using data through 2014 showed Missouri spending per K-12 student to be $9,418. Out of that sum only $1024 financed school and general administration – the lion’s share went to instruction and instructional support. The per student expenditure has increased in 2016 to $10,689 , but I can find no evidence that school administrators – folks with major responsibility for making schools function well in hard times – have been wallowing in the trough of Greitens’ financial largess. Top administrative salaries, such as that received by Vandeven – a nationally recognized educator – seem to be in line with those in similar positions nationally.

Nor is it clear, as Greitens claims, that no teachers have or will receive raises – teachers salaries are negotiated within various school districts and owe as much to property taxes as to putative state windfalls. I’m sure I’ve read reports of districts where teachers will receive raises next year. Overall, teacher salaries have bumped up 3.9% over the last decade – inadequate, but better than nothing.

If this represents the reasoning Greitens is using to justify privatizing and, at the very least, deregulating (i.e. deunionizing) public education via “school choice ” and charters, we should be very worried. Charters have not shown themselves to be the cure-all their advocates claim. But wanna know what does work? Adequate resources targeted where needed. And that means resources that can be utilized to provide social support – stressed out kids living in abject poverty do not perform well in school without environmental intervention.

So what does this mean for Greitens? If he’s really interested in improving education he should stop playing politics with the board, forget about more rich-folks tax cuts, stop exaggerating grand funding gestures that don’t amount to much, and make sure we really and truly fund education to the extent needed. That indeed might be an historical first in the state, at least when viewed over the past few decades. But don’t hold your breath.

In education, as in other policy matters involving Republicans nowadays, we need to follow the money trail. Greitens has taken scads of campaign funds from Betsy DeVos – the least qualified Education Secretary probably ever – and other school-choice advocates, so we can probably forget about honest efforts to reform education and resign ourselves to three years of politicized DeVos style education reform. Greitens clearly takes his orders from his bosses. Unless the courts step in and save us from his high-handed efforts to impose political control over the Board of Education, we just have to hope that we can undo the harm these folks will do if given free rein.

Campaign Finance: impatient

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Yesterday at the Missouri Ethics Commission for another instantly funded republican state House of Representatives campaign:

C171336 11/22/2017 Sharpe For Rep Gregory Sharpe 22364 St Hwy 156 Ewing MO 63440 Farmer/Seed Sales 11/22/2017 $50,000.00

Grass roots!

Well, isn’t that nice? Couldn’t he have just waited for a right wingnut millionaire funded PAC to kick in the funds? Just asking.

The committee (and candidacy) is new:

C171336: Sharpe For Rep
Committee Type: Candidate
Party Affiliation: Republican
22364 State Highway 156
Ewing Mo 63440
Established Date: 10/27/2017
[….]
Candidate
Gregory Sharpe
22364 State Highway 156
Ewing Mo 63440
[….]

[emphasis added]

Campaign Finance: here we go ’round and ’round…

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Yesterday at the Missouri Ethics Commission:

C171144 11/21/2017 Missouri Alliance For Freedom – Grace River PAC Liberty Alliance 7509 NW Tiffany Springs Parkway Suite 300 Kansas City MO 64153 11/21/2017 $24,316.50

[emphasis added]

You think they just passed the check over the cubicle partition? Just asking.

A few weeks ago, from their 24 Hour Expenditure Report:

MISSOURI ETHICS COMMISSION
EXPENDITURES AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Missouri Alliance For Freedom – Grace River PAC [pdf] 10/31/2017
[….]
B. Itemized Expenditures All Over $100
Something Else Strategies, LLC 212 Golden Willow Court Easley SC 29642 10/30/2017 Media Production $12,500.00 [emphasis added]
[….]
DIRECT EXPENDITURE REPORT
Hillary Shields 513 SE Miller Street Lees Summit MO 64063 State Senator District 8 [opposed] 10/30/2017 $12,500.00

[emphasis added]

There you go.

Previously:

Campaign Finance: Well, they certainly saved on postage (October 27, 2017)

About those television ads in the 8th Senate District special election (October 29, 2017)

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (r): apparently just too busy to hold any open public town halls

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Yesterday, via Twitter (well, a Twitter flurry), from Representative Vicky Hartzler (r):

Rep. Vicky Hartzler‏ @RepHartzler
Had a great visit to the Davis Hart Career Center in @CityofMexicoMO Proud of the great work they do to promote technical education! #MO4
[….]
1:35 PM – 21 Nov 2017

Nope, not an open public town hall.

Some of the comments:

Will students be able to get education? You voted to hurt them in the tax bill. Hold a public town hall

What, no town hall or announced office hours during your visit to Central MO? Shocking!

Sam Graves pities poor multi-millionare farmers decimated by the estate tax

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Missouri Rep. Sam Graves (R-6), as behooves the offspring of a farm family, couches his defense of the provision of the GOP tax-cut-for-the-rich bill that would repeal the estate tax in terms of farmers. But before I get to that defense, it’s important to note that Graves seems to be a little confused about the meaning of words. He somehow thinks that the estate tax amounts to double taxation on the person who dies – rather than a one-time tax levied on the folks receiving a hefty gift they almost surely did not work for or earn. And BTW, big gifts are taxable even when the giver isn’t dead.

But he’s right about where to focus his defense of eliminating this particular rich folks’ goodie. Nobody will cry too hard if the Trump offspring someday have to pay estate taxes on what Daddy Trump represents as his billions. We all know that they’ll continue to live big no matter what – especially given the ways that Daddy is monetizing his time in the White House. But Graves knows that if his rural farming constituency thinks that the tax hurts small family farmers who receive their inheritance in the form of land, etc. rather than ready cash, they might be willing to foot the cost for Ivanka, Don Jr. and Eric to buy a few more yachts, which is why he “gravely” (get it?) pronouces:

Farmers are hit especially hard by the death tax. After a lifetime of acquiring land and equipment to help provide food for the world, farmers are subjected to an additional tax on their estate when they die. The real effect of this double, and sometimes triple, taxation is felt by the late farmer’s family.

While many folks receive an inheritance in the form of a check or stocks and bonds, the family farmer passes on his life’s work and ensures that farming continues as a way of life in North Missouri and around the country.

It’s no wonder that our kids and grandkids aren’t choosing to farm when they grow up. It’s expensive enough to get a farming operation off the ground, much less keep it in the family after giving part of it to the government.

Could get a farmer all fired up and maybe even willing to overlook all the ways that the GOP tax plans will shaft the middle class – even middle class farmers. Except for one thing: Graves is playing fast and loose with the facts. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), “only 50 small farm and small business estates in the entire country will pay any estate tax in 2017 […] and they’ll owe less than 6 percent of their value in tax, on average.” Nor, as the CBPP further notes, will paying that tax force farming heirs to sell the family farm:

The estate tax affects so few small farms and businesses because the first $5.49 million of assets per person ($10.98 million per couple) are entirely exempt from it. Moreover, most farmers and business owners with estates large enough to owe the tax have sufficient liquid assets (such as bank accounts, stocks, and bonds) to pay the tax without having to touch other assets or liquidate their farm and business, a 2005 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study found. Today’s estate tax rules are even more generous than those CBO assumed in its analysis. Special estate tax provisions also allow estate tax filers to spread their payments over a 15-year period at low interest rates.

While doing next to nothing for family farms, repeal would provide a windfall to the wealthiest 0.2 percent of estates — the only ones large enough to pay the tax. A repeal proposal recently reintroduced in the Senate would provide the 0.2 percent of wealthiest estates with an average tax cut of more than $3 million in 2017. Roughly 330 estates worth more than $50 million would get more than $20 million apiece in tax cuts, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates. The proposal would also cost $269 billion over the decade, expanding deficits and adding to pressure for cuts in federal programs.

I’d say that somebody ought to tell Rep Graves to get his facts straight, but there’s that part of me that wonders what the point would be. We’ve seen his colleagues spin whopper after whopper to try to sell us on a tax cuts for their donors. Is it Graves fault that the best he can do is that old swampland special, the farm estate tax canard? It may even do the job it’s designed to do. After all, for many Trump voters who believe he/she knows from whence emanates all fake news, it probably still has currency.

At least Rep. Graves isn’t resorting to claims like those made my my Representative, Ann Wagner (R-2), that raising taxes on the middle class, cutting funding to programs that benefit the middle class, while giving a big regressive tax cut to the wealthiest of the wealthy will somehow help a “single mother of two.” Of course, there’s nothing to stop an unmarried Paris Hilton clone from giving birth twice. It could even happen on a lavish country estate that qualifies as a “family” farm.

Ann Wagner wants us to know that when the GOP tax cuts beggar us, we can still get an adoption credit

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Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2) voted for the House GOP tax cut sham bill. And she’s flaunting that fact. She thinks we’re stupid.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for Annie to come clean about what she actually voted for – there’s lots of undeniable details that she will try to deny apparently doen’t want you to know.

First, this bill is a veritable cornucopia of goodies for the 1%. It gives big tax cuts to rich folks – some permanent since it abolishes the estate tax, the Alternative Minimum tax that insures rich folks pay some taxes, and changes rules for pass-through income and investment income. It cuts corporate tax rates permanently from 35% to 20% without closing many of the loopholes that allowed most big corporations to actually pay somewhere in the neighborhood of 0 – 18%. Can you imagine how much less they’ll pay since they”ll be applying a plethora of tax breaks to an even lower rate?We’ll probably end up paying them.

Second, although the bill does give a few breaks to middle and lower income taxpayers with one hand, it mostly takes them away with the other. Many of the deductions and credits that are eliminated under the rubric “simplification” are those relied upon by middle class families. Some middle income earners will see higher tax bills right away, but even those who end up with a lower tax bill now may ultimately end up getting the shaft. GOPers usually neglect to point out that many of the goodies designated for the middle class are, for the most part, temporary.

Oh – crucial fact, given Rep. Wagner’s former concern for the national debt – the sham tax cut bill also adds $1.5 trillion dollars to the deficit. That’s why middle class folks don’t get permanent tax cuts and lose lots of exemptions and tax breaks they rely on – they can’t let that deficit go past the aforementioned $1.5 trillion and still pass the bill with only GOP votes.  It’s all smoke and mirrors (albeit thin smoke and murky mirrors) that lets rich investors make out like the proverbial bandit on the backs of those of us who aren’t rich enough to invest in a pet congressman. Or woman.

It’s hard to touch on all the mischief the sloppily written grab-bag of crony pleasing giveaways manages to do in its effort to please the more vicious members of the far right. It does away with the individual mandate of the ACA, a feature that will likely result in premium increases for all of us and eventually deprive 13 million people of insurance coverage. In a bid to convince dumb-as-dirt evangelicals (i.e. those who still try to excuse Roy Moore) that big gifts to GOP cronies a good thing, it does away with the provisions of the Johnson Amendment that stipulated that churches could retain tax-exempt status only by refraining from political advocacy from the pulpit. Now thanks to the corrupt GOP, we get to subsidize the efforts of some more authoritarian religious types to impose their religious views on the rest of us.

Another thing Republicans like Wagner aren’t telling us is that sooner rather than later, there will almost certainly be a $25 billion cut to Medicare:

Thanks to laws created by the Tea Party’s infamous 2010 sequester showdown over government spending, automatic cuts spring into action anytime Congress passes a bill that balloons the federal deficit, as the tax bill would. The approximately $136 billion in cuts spurred by the GOP tax bill would hit a number of government programs—including farm subsidies and the Border Patrol—but would cut most deeply into Medicare. Medicaid, Social Security, and food stamps are protected.

So if Wagner’s keeping quiet about what the GOP tax sham bill really does, what has she actually said about this travesty to justify her vote? Two words: mendacious fantasy (a.k.a. lies). Here’s an excerpt from her floor speech (I assume that the presentation of the word “yes” in all capitals means that our Annie is still screeching every time she votes for something that is bad for her constituents – her tell maybe? :

I vote YES to fix our broken tax system; I vote YES to help reignite the American economy; I vote YES to make it a little bit easier for that single mother of two, that firefighter, that teacher, shop owner, family of four, that Veteran; I vote YES for bigger paychecks, better savings and a more secure future. I ran for Congress to fight for the people of Missouri and to ensure that every hard-working American can realize their own American Dream,”

Broken economy? Not to hear economists tell it. And that nonsense about cutting corporate taxes to fix this “broken economy,” create jobs and raise wages? No one believes that trickle-down nonsense anymore. For example, when asked recently to affirm that the tax cut would inspire them to invest more, even a panel of CEOs of major companies bluntly shot that idea down. As for rich-folk goodies like eliminating the estate tax, write-offs for private jets? Like to hear how Wagner thinks that’ll help that “single mother of two” that she’s so worried about.

But hey! Annie’s has got a middle-class card up her sleeve. In her latest email newsletter she enthused about one feature of the bill that she voted for in particular: “This bill also protects the Adoption Tax Credit which I fought to protect. For decades this pro-family provision has helped provide children with loving families and stable homes.”

So that leaves us with the Adoption Tax Credit.  All this misery, but we get to keep a small-potatoes adoption tax credit that wouldn’t be in danger if Rep. Wagner and her GOP pals didn’t desperately need to please their donors in order to keep the money flowing.

Whoopee!

CORRECTION: The House Bill that Wagner voted on did not, as implied above, eliminate the ACA’s individual mandate – that provision is currently only included in the Senate version although many GOP House members have indicated that they will support its inclusion in the final legislation.

Campaign Finance: more from working people

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More today at the Missouri Ethics Commission, from working people on behalf of working people’s issues:

C171127 11/17/2017 We Are Missouri Laborers’ International Union of N.A. Local No. 42 General Fund 301 South Ewing Avenue St Louis MO 63103 11/17/2017 $15,075.00

C171196 11/17/2017 Raise Up Missouri CHIPP Political Account 1401 Hampton Ave. Saint Louis MO 63139 11/16/2017 $50,000.00

[emphasis added]

It’s amazing what organized individuals, each contributing a small amount of money, can do.

Previously:

Campaign Finance: very different priorities (November 17, 2017)

Campaign Finance: very different priorities

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Yesterday at the Missouri Ethics Commission for the House Republican Campaign Committee:

C091068 11/16/2017 HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE, INC Leggett and Platt Incorporated PO Box 757 Carthage MO 64836 11/14/2017 $10,000.00

[emphasis added]

We could guess.

Today at the same place – working people trying to do something about campaign finance and ethics in Missouri:

C161298 11/17/2017 CLEAN Missouri CHIPP Political Account 1401 Hampton Ave 3rd Floor St Louis MO 63139 11/16/2017 $50,000.00

[emphasis added]

There is a difference, eh?

We were told.

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We knew.

August 6, 2017 – Keystone Pipeline Protest and March – Lincoln, Nebraska – photo by Michael Bersin

Today:

Keystone pipeline spills 210,000 gallons of oil on eve of permitting decision for TransCanada

The Keystone pipeline running from Canada across the Great Plains leaked Thursday morning, spilling about 5,000 barrels of oil — or 210,000 gallons — southeast of the small town of Amherst in northeast South Dakota….

Any more questions?