Disaster Designation, State Medicaid, Missouri Ports, Stadium Financing
Greetings Friends of the 8th district! I want to remind everyone that our schools are back in session, so please take extra precautions to make sure that our kids are safe at the bus stops along the roads. I hope all of our teachers and school personnel had a smooth start to your school year. I'm sure that many of the kids were so excited to get back in school. Have a great year.
USDA Disaster Designation Makes Farmers Eligible for Low Interest Loans
Gov. Nixon announced this week that help is available for farmers in 105 Missouri counties that suffered losses from severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds and flooding from mid-May to late July are now eligible for low-interest loans and other federal assistance. This eligibility comes after the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture issued a natural disaster area designation on Aug. 18.
A disaster designation allows eligible farmers to be considered for assistance from the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA), including emergency loans. Affected farmers can contact their local FSA office for more information. On the list of the 105 counties eligible are Caldwell, Clay, Clinton and Ray Counties in my legislative district. If my office can help you with this matter, don't hesitate to call.
Task Force to Examine Managed Care Model for State’s Medicaid System
During the 2015 legislative session the House and Senate approved a state operating budget that will shift the state’s Medicaid system to one that utilizes managed care for delivery of health care services. The plan calls for the state to make the change by June 1, 2016 and also creates a task force of legislators, providers, payers and consumer groups to develop a strategy for the implementation of the change. Just a few days ago, the Speaker of the House appointed members to the task force and charged them with beginning their work on this important issue.
Currently, approximately 440,000 Medicaid recipients in 53 counties and St. Louis receive their health care under a managed care model. The budget approved by the General Assembly will move another 200,000 recipients in Missouri’s remaining 61 counties into managed care plans by next year’s deadline. Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens such as the elderly, blind and disabled are excluded from the managed care requirement.
Under a managed care system, the state pays a private company to manage the health care needs of patients. Proponents of the idea believe it will save taxpayer dollars when compared to a traditional fee-for-service model that reimburses doctors directly for the services they provide. Supporters say managed care puts a focus on preventive care to cut down on costly emergency room visits.
The task force will now begin its work to look at the logistics of transitioning Missouri’s Medicaid enrollees into managed care plans. The group also will look at other health care delivery models in an effort to determine the best path forward for Medicaid in Missouri.
House Committee Examines Importance of Missouri Ports
An interim House committee recently met at the state capitol to discuss the importance of Missouri’s ports, and to look at ways to continue to support these trade hubs that play a vital role in the state’s economy. Members of the Interim Committee on Development and Improvement of Missouri Ports learned during the hearing that the state’s port system accounts for 441 direct jobs, and also has a positive economic impact on communities within a 75-mile range of each port. According to testimony from the Missouri Department of Transportation, the state’s ports also represent a great investment of taxpayer dollars as every state dollar put into ports results in between $7 to $10 in private investment.
Despite the economic benefits of the state’s port system, committee members learned that funding for ports has been erratic. During a 10-year period from fiscal years 2004 to 2014 the system received only $11.7 million in funding, and often in inconsistent amounts. Witnesses testified that the funding issues have made it difficult to upgrade and repair the state’s waterway infrastructure.
Committee members also heard testimony regarding the overall benefits of moving goods by barge. The state transportation department’s freight and waterways administrator called the port system one of the best kept secrets in the state and noted they represent an environmentally efficient way for businesses to transport their products. Proponents of the state’s port system also pointed out that more traffic on Missouri’s waterways can alleviate the load on the state’s roads and bridges, which have seen funds for repair and improvements dwindle.
The committee plans to meet again in September when members will likely suggest actions to better invest in Missouri’s waterways infrastructure and port system.
Legislators Continue to Oppose Stadium Financing Without Public Vote
This week the Missouri Development Finance Board approved $15 million in tax credits for a new stadium for the St. Louis Rams football team. Several legislators from both the House and Senate reacted with disappointment. They are opposed to any use of taxpayer funding for a new stadium that does not first include a vote from the legislature. Opponents have said a new stadium, which would cost nearly $1 billion, would incur significant debt that Missourians would be forced to pay. They want the legislature to have a say in how the plan moves forward in an effort to protect taxpayers from an excessive debt burden.
The current financing plan calls for the state to issue $135 million in bonds and for another $187 million in tax credits and other state and local incentives. The remainder of the financing would come from an NFL team owner, an NFL loan program, the sale of seat licenses, and bonds issued by St. Louis. As one lawmaker said, “If you want to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars, you cannot move forward on this proposal as it is presented.” In the coming weeks, several legislators plan to continue their efforts to stop the financing plan from moving forward.
Missouri’s Credit Rating Continues to be Outstanding
Much like the credit rating of individuals, states have similar ratings based on the way they budget and invest taxpayer dollars. This week the state of Missouri received good news as all three rating agencies announced the state has retained its AAA credit rating. Standard and Poor’s Rating Services, Fitch Ratings, and Moody’s Investors Service all indicated Missouri has continued to be an outstanding steward of the state’s tax revenues.
Standard and Poor’s Rating Services wrote, “debt payments are a first-priority budget item in terms of state budgeting” and “the state’s track record regarding its budget management is especially strong.” The end result of maintaining the AAA credit rating is that the state benefits from lower interest rates and long-term investments become more affordable. Missouri is one of only three states with a AAA rating from all three agencies, which is a reminder that the state is a safe place to invest and a strong place to do business. The good credit rating also saves taxpayers millions of dollars in interest each year.
As always, please do not hesitate to call or write me anytime with your questions or thoughts on this or any other issue. My Capitol office is 573.751.0246 and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.