This much we know: Gov. Matt Blunt and Attorney General Jay Nixon are already in full campaign mode as they take center stage in what is sure to be a heated contest for the state's top office this November. Conventional wisdom says this year may be a good time to challenge an incumbent Republican governor since the national picture currently bodes fairly well for Democrats.
But conventional wisdom is often wrong and history is packed with examples where voters defied the polls. It's still a long way to November.
Gov. Blunt took center stage this week with his annual State of the State address. As you would expect, the Democrats found little to support in Blunt's plan for the coming year. And also as expected, it was Nixon - speaking in response to Blunt's game plan - who had the harshest words for his Republican opponent.
As with any proposals from either party, there was something to like and ample to dislike in Blunt's blueprint for our fine state. I always cringe when I hear a fiscal conservative propose new spending but there was plenty of that in Blunt's speech. But if the spending creates jobs, the Governor will find ample support from our region of the state.
The core issue - or at least in these early stages of the gubernatorial battle - centers in the Medicaid cuts made recently that removed thousands of Missourians from the taxpayer-funded healthcare program. Blunt wants to restore some of those cuts. Nixon wants to return all of those cuts and says it's possible without any new taxes.
I'm no math whiz but I can add simple numbers. When Medicaid spending totals $7.2 billion dollars in our state's $23 billion budget, it's an expensive program. The spending eclipses education spending from the state. So when we talk of Medicaid, we need to understand just how costly the health program is for Missouri taxpayers.
I like it when I hear that the Medicaid cuts can be restored either fully or partially without raising new tax revenue. But I honestly wonder if that's possible. It may be possible to restore those cuts to the low-income of our state in the short term. But what happens next year and the following year? It's hard to justify spending increases for a program that is already taking nearly one third of the state budget.
In the world of politics, Matt Blunt and Jay Nixon see completely different pictures of our state. In Blunt's world, we are progressing, we're demanding accountability and we're changing our priorities for the better. In Nixon's world, we are ignoring the poor, we are held hostage by special interests and we are not getting the biggest bang for our buck.
I started this column by saying, "this much we know." I end it by saying, "this much we believe."
I believe that the key to our state or any other is to create jobs at virtually any cost. The key to success is having available jobs that will expand the workforce. That expanded workforce will ease the strain on government services, increase the tax revenue for the state and enforce the notion that personal responsibility is the key to a successful society. I recognize that in the meantime we have to provide a safety net for the less fortunate and a renewed emphasis on education excellence.
But the first and most important step for government at any level is to assure that the citizens able to provide their own way have the opportunity to do just that. I'll support the candidate who can make that promise long before I will support one who wants to take more of our tax dollars for those on the bottom rung of the ladder. Throwing money at a problem is often a dismal failure. Throwing opportunity at a problem stands a much greater chance of success.