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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens; 100 days into an ‘outsider’ term in office

Eric Greitens celebrates his gubernatorial win in November 2016.

Counting weekends and holidays, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens observed his 100th day in office recently

In the November election, Greitens’ win as a self-proclaimed outsider in Missouri mirrored now-President Donald Trump’s win nationally. The Missouri election outcome surprised even political pollsters and pundits. The former Navy SEAL and Rhodes scholar took the oath of office in Jefferson City on Jan. 9, 11 days before Trump’s inauguration.

Budget issues
There’s no doubt Greitens began his term facing some difficult challenges. First and foremost was the need to make budget cuts due to a gap in state revenues compared to the income projected when the legislature approved the state’s budget last year. The $146 million in reductions, which Greitens
announced not long after his inauguration, were in addition to more than $200 million already stricken from the spending plan by former Gov. Jay Nixon.

The budget gap stems primarily from lower-than-projected corporate income taxes, more specifically the phasing out of the corporate franchise tax as called for in legislation approved a number of years ago, and changes in how multistate corporations allocate their profits. Meanwhile,
revenue from individual income taxes has been steady.

Higher education bore the brunt of Greitens’ initial cutbacks, with $82 million in reductions. Although the governor noted that nothing was taken from kindergarten through 12th grade [K-12] classrooms, some $14 million was cut from programs affecting schools, including $8.6 million for busing.

The governor’s $27.6 billion budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning July 1 calls for K-12 schools to receive some $3 million more than in the current year while cutting $36 million from school transportation funding. Democrats in the legislature have criticized that plan, saying school
officials will be forced to reduce amounts going for other purposes to pay for getting students to school in the first place.

A $2 million allocation would go to districts that do not currently offer advance placement courses, to help pay for making them available online. Another $13 million would go for special education services for students with disabilities.

Colleges and universities will get $100 million less in the coming year, although a major part of that reduction already has been put into effect. Critics fear the cutbacks will mean more hikes in tuition and
fees charged at higher education institutions.

The new budget plan also includes $52 million saved by adding requirements that must be met before individuals with disabilities qualify for in-home and nursing care.

Greitens also has proposed a 3-percent reduction in reimbursements to Medicaid healthcare providers. Still, total state and federal Medicaid spending would climb to $10.7 billion, an increase of several hundred million.

Continuing the course set by Nixon, who cut some 5,000 positions from the state payroll during his eight years in office, Greitens wants to eliminate 188 more jobs.

In addition, the proposed budget includes no pay increases for state employees, generally
agreed to be among the lowest paid in the nation.

The governor also has announced plans to equip every school in the state with broadband internet. He would accomplish that goal with $6 million in state funds and with an estimated $39 million from a Federal Communication Commission program designed to help rural districts without high-speed internet service.

Overall, the state’s new yearly budget under Greitens’ proposal would increase by 1.2 percent compared with this year’s total. The Republican-dominated General Assembly must meet a May 5 deadline to
approve its budget plan, which the governor can veto entirely or in part with line item vetoes.

Early actions and reactions
Steve Ehlmann, a former member of both the Missouri House and Senate, also is a former circuit court judge and the current St. Charles County Executive. He recalled meeting Greitens seven or eight years ago when Greitens was working to help veterans through The Mission Continues, a nonprofit organization he founded.

“He was very impressive,” Ehlmann said, “and a very good communicator. I remember saying to someone, ‘I sure hope he’s a Republican’ because it was obvious even back then that he had a future in public service if he wanted to go that direction.”

As for being an outsider, as Greitens has labeled himself, there are advantages and disadvantages to that in the political arena, Ehlmann observed.

“You can come in with some fresh approaches, and that can be a good thing,” he said. “But there’s also a learning curve involved and that can be difficult at times. However, there’s no doubt he has a quality
resume and his academic credentials are certainly impressive, too.”

Ehlmann believes one of Greitens’ primary achievements during his early days in office is one the casual observer might not recognize. “He’s made some good hires, both men and women. That’s important
because he can’t do everything himself,” Ehlmann said.

There’s no shortage of issues for Greitens to tackle as his term in office continues, but Ehlmann cited one he regards as particularly important. The St. Louis area is fragmented by a plethora of municipal jurisdictions and dysfunction when it comes to who has control over what. That spells trouble when it comes to addressing problem areas, including crime.

Ehlmann emphasized he wasn’t referring to a unification of city and county government. “But there’s a lot of things state government can do when it comes to broad problems such as what the St. Louis area is
dealing with. If state government doesn’t take the lead and do them, they won’t get done. I’d be pushing for that as governor,” he said. “We can’t have the kind of economic development we want, for example,
if crime remains the problem that people perceive it to be. Crime is a regional issue because what happens in St. Louis or Ferguson affects the entire area.”

Setting priorities
Missourians shouldn’t expect instant results, whether in job growth and economic development, generally, or in reducing crime and other areas.

“The things you do today often take time to produce the outcome you’re looking for,”
Harder asserted.

Rep. Shamed Dogan [R-District 98] in the Missouri House, is pleased with Greitens’ initial efforts.

“There have been some very good things that have happened so far,” Dogan said, citing steps in tort reform, Greitens forming a committee to study and recommend how to reform the state’s tax rates and credits, and labor reform, including the governor’s signing of right-to-work legislation.

“By the time this session ends, we’ll look back and be pleased with the progress that has been made,” Dogan observed.

Although some in the news media have been critical of Greitens’ lack of availability, Dogan, from his perspective as a legislator, views the issue differently.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the governor’s accessibility,” Dogan said. “He has been much more engaged with legislators than Gov. Nixon was. He met with the black caucus during his first month in
office, for example, something that didn’t occur with Nixon for a number of years after he came into office. I feel we have established a very good relationship with people on the governor’s staff and that they
know what our priority issues are.”

Dogan serves as vice chairman of the black caucus and is the only Republican member of the group. He concedes he has been frustrated with the lack of progress on education reform measures in the legislature. Various groups in the state have been calling for a number of changes, including school choice, restructuring or repeal of teacher tenure, implementation of merit pay systems and better teacher
evaluation procedures.

“I think we will need the governor’s leadership to get some of these issues through,” Dogan said.

Keeping campaign promises
One of Greitens’ main campaign issues was his call for transparency in government, but he has been unwilling to release his tax returns or the names of major contributors to his campaign. As with a number of other politicians nationwide, Greitens also now has two nonprofit entities, known as 501(c) (4)s, that can raise unlimited amounts of money from donors whose names do not
have to be disclosed.

Asked for his views on the apparent contradiction, Dogan said, “I really have no comment on that. I’ll let the governor decide how he wants to comment on those issues.”

Mid Rivers Newsmagazine wanted Gov. Greitens to comment as well, not only on that issue but a number of others, such as his own assessment of his first 100 days in office, his current legislative priorities, his vision for the state and strategy for making it a reality. However, there were no responses to repeated emails. On April 12, press secretary Parker Briden did contact Mid Rivers Newsmagazine, but an interview was not able to be scheduled prior to presstime.

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