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Vote Wisely II – Did We?

By Paul Peyton

Wisdom in casting votes has no connection to bias toward Republican or Democrat candidates. Wisdom is disinterested in gender bias, racial bias or personal interests. A wise vote considers the future of the nation, the state and the locality. A wise vote fosters the health and welfare of the children of today; even of generations of children into the infinite future. A wise vote perpetuates the American ideals of: 1.) Freedom; 2.) Self-responsibility; and, 3.) Equal application of the law. Simply stated, the wise vote is pro-American; it favors the nation and it favors the citizens of the nation.

Let us analyze whether our votes have favored American ideals.

Hawley beat McCaskill: From the information presented in the campaign, voters learned two major points: Hawley hates McCaskill; McCaskill hates Hawley. Voters can only hope that future campaigns will be more informative. Hawley made promises that gave voters hope that he would vote pro-American in the senate. McCaskill has cast senate votes that appear to side with the anti-American crowd. As voters, our duty is to contact our new senator and make him absolutely certain that we expect him to strongly support American ideals. Did we vote wisely? Maybe, if for no reason other than Mr. Hawley is very new and he will likely be more easily influenced by the wishes of We The People than a senator who has established Washington preferences and policies.

Amendment 2 – Medical Marijuana: The wisdom deficiency shared by 99.9% of voters, including this writer, is the inability to read and comprehend the entire text of ballot propositions. Many intelligent people argue that the complex, tail-chasing, confusing and self-contradictory language is for the deliberate purpose of obscuring real purposes and meanings. Maybe they are right. Let us analyze some key elements and guess at the wisdom of our vote.

Revenue and costs are estimated to be “…$18 million for state operating costs and veterans programs, and $6 million for local governments.” That’s a little different from what we were told. TV ads implied that the entire four percent tax would be dedicated to veterans. Using different words, let’s see how much of the $24 million will go to veterans programs:

Twenty-five percent — $6 million – is “…for local governments.” for purposes that are not defined in the amendment. That leaves seventy-five percent or $18 million. 

Twenty-nine percent — $7 million – goes to “…state operating costs…” That leaves forty-six percent or $11 million that appear to be directed to veterans. 

The wording of Amendment 2 seems to guarantee that the $11 million will be used for veterans benefits and cannot be used for any other purpose. That is good. I think. We owe veterans the care they have earned. But, is Amendment 2 wise?

Looking forward over the course of many generations, will the needs of veterans remain constant? Likely not. But Amendment 2 will remain constant over the course of generations. Amendment 2 effectively bars the state legislature from changing the revenue that is dedicated to veterans. Voters must remember that a constitutional amendment cannot be changed as the needs of veterans change; it is permanent. If needs increase, Amendment 2 remains the same. If needs decrease, Amendment 2 will feed the same revenue stream that will likely be used for “…state operating costs…” 

The problem with Amendment 2 is that it has become a permanent component of the state constitution. Legalizing a drug for medical use should be a matter for legislative action. If medical marijuana was legalized by legislative action, the laws could be revised as needs and societal opinion change. A constitutional component remains static. The legislature cannot legally respond to changing needs, changing opinions or deficient details within the law.

Whether medical marijuana or veterans benefits are good is not the issue of wisdom in Amendment 2. The wisdom question is in whether it is a good idea to write trendy legislation into the constitution of the state as an irrevocable mandate. What if, a year from now, we find that the law does not provide the benefits we hoped? 

The Amendment states that a home-grower of marijuana is allowed, “…six flowering plants.” (It does not limit the number of plants that do not have flowers…) What if we discover that six is not the optimum number? What if we wish to change it to seven? We can’t change a constitutional mandate. The legislature can’t change the constitution. Only a new constitutional amendment can change the authorized number of plants from six to seven. What a mess! (As a side note, the extreme legal details of Amendment 2 consumed 183.5 column inches in the local newspaper, approximately 7500 words. For comparison, this commentary is 2000 words in length. No wonder we don’t know what we voted for…)

And… Just for information… The license to commercially grow medical marijuana costs $25,000 annually. That’s for the license. The non-refundable fee for having one’s application considered is $10,000. (In some societies, the “fee” for considering a request is called a “bribe”.) Plus, one must have “… experience in a legal cannabis market.” (Those words exclude Missouri residents, since no “…experience in a legal cannabis market,” is possible in a state in which there is no legal cannabis.) Sorta implies that there is a well-moneyed entity from another state just drooling over the opening of a new market and the official discouragement of resident competition.

Did we vote wisely? Does the law give advantage to the class of experienced, out-of-state, cash-rich investors? So it seems. That violates the American ideal of equal application of the law.

Proposition B – Increase Minimum Wage: Missouri voters approved a minimum wage of $8.60 per hour effective January 1, 2019. This proposal is a two-edged sword, which is evident every time minimum wage legislation is brought before the voters. On side one, there is no question that multiple thousands of minimum-wage workers do not earn a living wage. On side two, the argument is the general economy will not support higher wages. Both sides are correct.

Missouri’s leaders are seeking to address the symptom of low wages. They have no proposal to remedy the cause of insufficient wages. 

Low wages is the symptom of a large, pervasive, complex and stubborn economic problem. Prop. B addressed the symptom only of the root problem; and then only partially. The reality is that $8.60 is nowhere near a living wage. People earning $8.60 will automatically be looking for better pay. High turnover, disinterest, hostility and abysmal morale are inherent with substandard pay. Missouri – and America – needs an honest, workable, complete answer to inadequate pay.

The remedies of the causes of low pay have little appeal. Politicians like popular answers. They have no attraction to the harsh medicine of remedies. Who can blame them? To remedy the causes of low wages involves confronting multiple entrenched deficiencies simultaneously. Few people know the formula for a strong economy. Fewer still have the power, authority, courage and energy to implement the answers.

Did we vote wisely? The state will, by force of law, dictate the wages an employer will pay. That violates the American ideal of freedom. Wages will be determined by law rather than by the mutual interaction between employer and employee. That violates the ideal of self-reliance. The law forces a monetary transfer that works to the advantage of the worker and to the disadvantage of the employer. That violates the American constitutional principle of equal application of the law. Voting against American ideals is unwise, even if the result seems to generate a temporary desirable advantage for a given class of people.

The bottom line is this: The solution to the problem of wage-deficiency has been deferred; it has not been solved. Deferring problems rather than solving problems is not wise.

Amendment 4 – Revisions to Bingo Regulations: Amendment 4 is the perfect example of why regulatory details should not be integrated as a permanent part of the state constitution. When a few words prove to be impractical, the legislature cannot simply and conveniently revise a statute; they must propose a new amendment for a state-wide vote. The result? People not actively involved in bingo games don’t care: The future of the regulatory change is left in the hands of a majority who don’t understand and will not be affected by a yes or no vote. A coin flip would be more expedient and probably be given more reasoned thought. Did voters violate American ideals? Who knows? The political class violated rules of logic and good government.

Proposition D – Ten percent gas tax: Bet you thought you were voting on a tax that would be constitutionally dedicated to building roads and bridges. Yep. The TV ad told us that two-thousand bridges needed a dose of your money. You probably thought that MoDot would get a huge boost in budget. Maybe not. Let us read the exact wording in the proposition. 

“…this measure will generate at least $288 million annually to the State Road Fund…”

Hold that thought. You probably assume that the State Road Fund exists for the purpose of funding… well… roads! Right? Read on…

“…State Road Fund to provide for the funding of Missouri state law enforcement and $123 million annually to local governments for road construction and maintenance.”

That’s right: $288 million to fund state law enforcement and $123 million to local governments. It seems that MoDot is not named as a recipient of additional revenue. 

A proponent of Prop. D has informed this writer that the money that will go to law enforcement will free up funds that were previously allocated and then – under a different guise – can then be re-allocated to MoDot.

Huh? In the private sector, such action is called money laundering! People go to prison for that sort of sleight-of-hand. Probably tortured as well… and called many bad names. As voters, all we can believe is what the proposition actually says in real words. And, the proposition says that the money will go to law enforcement and to local governments.

Just in case the voter may be confused, several inches further along in Prop. D we read:

“Subject to appropriation, the state portion of the revenue generated by the increases in the rate of tax beginning July 1, 2019, shall be used for the actual cost of the state highway patrol in administering and enforcing any state motor vehicle laws and traffic regulations.”

Seems clear. The actual words state that the tax revenue will go to the state highway patrol.

Oh my. If one reads further, Prop. D goes off the reservation to direct how individuals are required to report income on state tax forms with some requirements going back to, “…December 31, 1972.” Then, the gas / highway tax proposition goes into reporting of compensation due to losses in such endeavors as “…Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish.” The proposition goes on to detail reporting requirements of income derived from the “Olympic Dream Freedom Act”. 

Somewhere in there, the link to potholes and guard rails got lost.

Proposition D actually does get around to mentioning something about roads in the “Emergency State Freight Bottleneck Fund”. The “Bottleneck Fund,” according to the text, “…shall consist of moneys appropriated by the general assembly.” In other words, not from moneys generated by the dedicated gasoline tax. Bottleneck Fund projects must, “Be a major road improvement with an estimated construction cost of fifty million dollars or more,” and must, “Be an improvement listed on the 2014 state freight plan…” Bet that eliminates filling potholes on your commute route. Or replacing guardrails. 

Did we vote wisely in approving Prop. D? [Editor’s Note: Voters did not approve Prop. D. It failed with 53.60% of voters opposing it.]

One can read and re-read the proposition and never fully understand what will result from the new law. The only certainty is what it does not say. It does not say, “The ten-cent gasoline tax will be provided to MoDot in addition to existing funding with full budgetary authority residing in the Administration of MoDot.”

Honesty is an understood prerequisite to the American Way of Life. Prop. D does not seem to be a clear, honest rendering of the effects of the law. Our legislators can do better and we can vote more wisely.