Paul Waldman described Donald Trump’s “flexibility” in regard to the rightwing gun culture as “a perfect expression of the larger Republican bargain, where the party’s elites pretend to share the base’s cultural values and priorities, and in exchange are put into office where they pursue an agenda of tax cuts and regulatory rollback.” We’ve seen lots of this type of trade-off in Missouri, although I’m not sure some of our dimmer legislators are just pretending to share the world view of their more backward constituents. There can be no doubt, however, that almost all GOPers in our state’s government elevate the welfare of rich constituents and campaign donors, in the form of tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks, over all else.
This dual focus on social conservatism and conservative economic ideology can create contradictions that are often costly for Missouri’s citizens. The just-ended Missouri legislative session demonstrates how middle and working class taxpayers often have to pony up to pay for the pursuit of GOP economic freedoms and religious preferences. The members of the erstwhile “fiscally responsible” party seemed ready to fall all over themselves to spend the taxpayers’ once sacred dollars on right-wing legislative trinkets.
Voter ID. Cost to taxpayers: $17 million over three years. If Missouri voters go ahead and agree to change the state’s constitution in order to implement voter ID, the law that was passed stipulates that “the state would be required to provide free photo IDs and any underlying documents necessary to obtain them, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards.” None of which comes free of charge. Voter ID is a pretty expensive “fix” for an alleged voter fraud problem that doesn’t actually exist. As for the estimated 220,000 Missourians who could be disenfranchised, for our free-market GOP it’s no big deal since suppressing potentially Democratic votes will make it easier to elect folks who want nothing more than to secure that vaunted economic freedom (i.e., tax cuts and regulatory rollback) for their wealthy patrons.
Planned Parenthood Cuts. Cost to taxpayers: $8 million in 2016. In a move to avoid legal repercussions that defunding Planned Parenthood of $4 million in federal dollars would incur, legislators sacrificed the $8 million dollars the federal government allocated to Missouri to pay for women’s reproductive health, and replaced it with Missouri taxpayer money that they stipulate cannot go to agencies that perform abortion. Of course, none of the federal money could have been used for abortions in the first place. The goal was to destroy Planned Parenthood, the only venue for abortion in Missouri. It was driven by a set of widely discredited, manipulated videos tricked out to show that the agency sold aborted fetal material for medical research purposes (utilizing aborted “Baby parts” to save lives! Oh! the horror!).
Failure to expand Medicaid. Cost to taxpayers: $16.2 billion over 10 years (plus $6.8 billion lost to Missouri hospitals). I hope that I don’t have to explain this item, and that you already realize that our lawmakers are willing to short state taxpayers in a major way for no reason other than they don’t like the black man in the White House and strategically attempt to sabotage all of his initiatives – particularly the successful ones like Obamacare that put Republicans in a bad light. Oh, and there’s that thing about encouraging dependency. Right-wing folks purport to believe that using the People’s government to ensure the People’s wellbeing is as immoral as making rich folks pay their fair share. Because, you know, dependency. Once again, that’s about $1.6 billion lost to Missouri taxpayers this year alone – not to mention the estimated 700 Missouri deaths that could have been prevented.
Failure to act on an agreement to close the tobacco loophole: Cost to taxpayers: $50 million. If you want to know more about the “tobacco loophole,” read this Politifact Missouri article. The important point for my argument is that by failing to act legislatively to update the state’s tobacco law subsequent to an agreement negotiated by Attorney General Chris Koster and several big tobacco companies, the legislature cost the state $50,000 this year. There’s no reason for this negligence, none at all. Unless, of course, lobbyists for smaller tobacco companies, the losers in the agreement, dumped enough of the green stuff in Jefferson City to insure that the lawmakers assigned it a lesser priority than curtailing non-existent voter fraud or punishing Planned Parenthood for malfeasance that never happened.
These are the big money-wasters from the last session that I know about. There may be more, but if you tally up the cost of these four items, the total cost to Missouri taxpayers comes to something in the vicinity of $1.7 billion for one year – and some have financial implications that last for several years. That’s an awful lot for hard-pressed Missourians to pay when all that they’re getting for their money is an election year boost for Republican politicians so that they can make good on their implicit pledge to insure that those who have, get more.