Friday, March 23, 2012

Nixon Aske For GOP Help and Grisamore answers with more smoke and mirrors

Nixon asks for GOP help on blind benefit

JEFFERSON CITY — In a rare move, Gov. Jay Nixon sought Republican support this week to reverse a $28 million cut that ends a medical program for blind Missourians by bringing rank-and-file members to his office.

Since Nixon took office, Republican legislative leaders have often criticized him for being unwilling to work directly with lawmakers. Democrats have privately made similar complaints that the governor does not assist them in forging a common strategy against GOP initiatives.

Money from the cut to the medical program was shifted to state colleges and universities as part of a plan to maintain level funding for the schools.

Nixon met Wednesday with Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Lee's Summit, and Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Valley Park. In an interview, Grisamore said Nixon reiterated his "commendable concern" about the cuts and talked with them about how to reverse the decision.

"The governor made a passionate case for his concerns in this area," Grisamore said.
Scharnhorst could not be reached for comment.

Grisamore, a member of the House Budget Committee and chairman of the Special Standing Committee on Disability Services, said he opposed the cuts during committee work. Once the committee had voted, Grisamore said he felt he had to stand with Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, because he had been able to reverse other decisions that would have cut services to the disabled.

"We had many more victories than defeats," he said.

The closest vote came on the bill that eliminates medical coverage for 2,858 blind Missourians. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure, which passed on a 90-61 vote. All four Democrats who represent Boone County — Reps. Mary Still, Chris Kelly, Stephen Webber and Paul Quinn — voted against the bill. Rep. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, voted in favor of the bill.

The bill contains $6 million for a "transitional benefit" to help some who will lose coverage.
Spokesman Scott Holste said Nixon met with Grisamore and Scharnhorst, "among others."
"I can also tell you that he is greatly disappointed that these two longtime supporters of Missourians with disabilities then voted to eliminate, for all intents and purposes, this vital program that has been in place to help needy blind people for more than 40 years," Holste said.

Grisamore said he suggested Nixon ask college and university presidents to help save the program. A letter to the Senate giving up some of the money might work, he said he told the governor.

But yesterday, University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe told the MU Faculty Council he is not planning to get into the politics of the budget. "We're not getting involved in where the source of funding is," he said. "If anyone asks, that's for legislators to decide, not for us to decide."

Wolfe did warn, though, that Nixon's proposal to cut higher education by 7.8 percent is still a possibility. With tuition increases, that cut would amount to a $47 million shortfall. In the worst-case scenario, Wolfe said, 245 jobs are on the chopping block.

Holste said today Nixon would seek to restore the funding by promoting the merits of the program.
"This issue is not about cutting a deal," Holste said. "It is about doing the right thing."

Tribune reporter Janese Silvey contributed to this story.
Reach Rudi Keller at 573-815-1709 or e-mail

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