Beat the Press

The University of Missouri says it can no longer afford to lose money with its publishing arm, University of Missouri Press. So UMP is being killed off with the coming of the new fiscal year on July 1. It will take a little while to wind things down but ten good and dedicated people are losing their jobs with an organization that has for more than half a century enriched the cultures of Missouri.

This writer needs to make sure the reader knows he’s talking about the people who took a typescript and a stack of (well, some disks full of) photographs and transformed them into a stunning book called THE ART OF THE MISSOURI CAPITOL a year ago. I’m so proud of that book, not because I’m the writer and co-author but because of the incredible job UMP did in producing it. The Capitol Commission, which raised money for the production of the book and for the subsidy to UMP to publish it, had been hoping there would be a second printing. But now, who knows?

Whether there is a second printing is a secondary matter when compared to the death of the Press.

The loss of the University of Missouri Press is a loss to all of Missouri, as the loss of similar university presses in to other states have diminished those states.

University presses have struggled for years in a weak economy and a changing world of book publishing and circulation. They don’t publish stuff like Harry Potter novels or Fifty Shades of Gray, or David McCullough’s latest best-seller.

But the University of Missouri Press has given us Vance Randolph’s multi-volume collection of Ozark folk songs, the collected works of Langston Hughes, Robert Farrell’s books about Harry Truman, the Missouri Heritage series of books covering a huge array of topics, and more. And so much more.

If the University of Missouri Press isn’t there to give all of us the opportunity to be better Missourians by learning about the great diversity of Missouri history and culture, who will give us that opportunity? It doesn’t appear anybody will, certainly not in the depth and variety UMP has given us for 54 years.

But the real world intrudes. University of Missouri Press has been losing money for a few years and in the last year the University subsidized it to the tune of $400,000. The university system—as is the case with all of Missouri higher education—has dealt with funding cuts and tuition freezes for several years and the governor and the legislature have little interest in solving that problem. In fact the legislature feels it deserves oodles of kudos for rejecting the governor’s request that it cut another $106 million from higher education in the next budget and instead holding funding at the current year’s level—which is about the same as the higher ed budget a decade or more ago. Lawmakers are proud that they didn’t follow the governor’s lead and cut the funding back to 1990s levels.

So universities have to look for things to jettison. University of Missouri Press is being thrown over the side. The chairman of the UMKC faculty council, in the Columbia Daily Tribune yesterday, says, “I could recoup this amount of money by eliminating two upper-level administrative positions somewhere on our four campuses. Should we close the libraries as well, since they are not income-producing units?” That’s a rhetorical question, of course. And a spokeswoman for the university has told the newspaper that two system-level associate vice-presidents HAVE been cut.

A lot of people who are upset about the decision see the University of Missouri Press has having a value beyond the costs of keeping it alive. Some people are upset enough that they’ve told the university to forget about future money donations. But it’s hard to see the curators changing their minds when the university has leaky roofs, outmoded laboratories, and faculty salaries that are often considered less than the salaries paid at the high-level universities that the University of Missouri likes to think it is.

We’ve covered a lot of legislator-talk about “right-sizing” state government and darned if we know what the right size of government is although we’ve heard them talk in a lot of general terms about small government operating on low taxes. In today’s political climate, there doesn’t appear to be much room for heritage, culture, literature, and meaningful published scholarship, at least not if those things are subsidized by taxpayers who, we are often reminded, can make better decisions about spending their money than government can.

Supporters of the cut say it will help “right-size” the university. Critics of the planned cut think the University of Missouri will be a lesser university because it is killing the University of Missouri Press.

What are they talking about?

Something about the debt limit “discussions” in Washington reminds us of a scene in Meredith Wilson’s MUSIC MAN in which the town biddies, replete in their feathered bonnets, get into a full-blown gossip fest about the morals of Marian Paroo, the town librarian and the target of con man Harold Hill. The movie shows the ladies huddling around, feathered hats bobbing, and chattering, intercut with a flock of chickens milling around in the chicken yard.

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep
Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep
Pick a little, talk a little, cheep!

Just what are the differences that is producing all of the finger-pointing, and posturing, (cheep, cheep, cheeping) and deadlock in Washington about the debt ceiling and the national deficit?

House Republicans want three trillion dollars in cuts. Senate Democrats propose $2.7 trillion in cuts.

The Boehner (GOP) plan would raise the debt ceiling by one trillion dollars by August 2 with $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending spread through ten years. A second increase in the debt ceiling would total 1.6 trillion dollars that would cover borrowing for another fiscal year. But that second increase would not be effective unless Congress cuts another $1.8 trillion in federal spending.

Contrasting that is the Reid (D) plan that would raise the debt ceiling in one step with $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending through ten years plan additional cuts of $1.5 trillion.

That’s the $3 trillion versus $2.7 trillion in cuts.

But it’s in the details of those cuts where the trouble lies.

The Boehner plan says further cuts could be from any part of the budget, including Medicare and other benefit programs and in the tax code. Automatic cuts would be triggered if spending exceeds set levels.

The Reid plan rejects any cuts in Medicare and Social security and other major benefit programs. Reid also thinks $1 trillion could be saved as the wars wind down in Iraq and Afghanistan (Republicans agree on that point). Reid also figures a reduction in borrowing because of the proposed $2.7 billion in cuts would mean the federal government would pay $400 billion less in interest on the debt. He also says better tax enforcement, reduction of fraud, reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reducing crop subsidies, and selling parts of the “electromagnetic spectrum” would total $100 million in increased federal income without raising taxes. The “electromagnetic spectrum” is a scientific term that covers all kinds of things but in this case probably refers to the frequencies used by radio and television stations, microwaves, and so forth.

Neither plan raises taxes.

Both plans establish a bipartisan joint House/Senate committee to find other savings and the findings would get a straight yes or no vote by the end of the year.

Boehner wants a yes or no vote on a federal balanced budget amendment to the constitution. The House does not address that issue.

Missouri, by the way, does have a constitutional requirement that the state budget be balanced. The provision has forced the governor and the legislature to make a lot of cuts and withholdings in the last few years but it also has kept Missouri from having the horrendous debt problems we hear several other states having—and that the federal government is wrestling with.

Thanks to McClatchy Newspapers and the Post-Dispatch for the chart in this morning’s paper. It doesn’t just give readers an outline of the differences. It also offers readers a chance to look at the issues shorn of heated cheeping and ask themselves how they would find a middle ground to solve a problem those we have elected seem unable to find.

Tax Watch

Suppose you had to pay your personal income tax each year and then you had to pay a tax on your assets, too. Well, to some extent you do, don’t you? Except they’re called property taxes.

The legisalture is moving quickly to eliminate similar “double taxation” for businesses. The senate has approved a plan to phase out the corporate franchise (asset) tax during the next five years. Before the final senate vote, only one senator expressed any concerns about the loss of state income of an estimated $17 million a year for the next five years.

Next year’s budget is going to be based on an estimated state income that is $300 million to $700 million less than this fiscal year’s budget, depending on who is speaking at the moment. So $17 million isn’t exactly pocket change.

The Senate sponsor of the franchise tax repeal, Eric Schmitt of Glendale, argues, “Taxes that those companies would normally owe, that they would pay the state treasury, is freed up to hire people and invest.” You can hear the final passage debate on our main webpage, Missourinet.com.

So let’s all watch the state tax collections. If Schmitt is right, companies will invest their $17 million dollars to expand and to hire more workers. Will a combination of corporate income taxes and the income taxes of the workers Schmitt says the business will hire replace that $17 million dollars a year that finance the costs of the government that serves us—factoring out economic growth that would occur otherwise as the nation pulls out of the recession? And how soon can we expect that to happen? Who will keep track of the people that businesses hire specifically because they get to keep their franchise taxes?

Schmitt admits his argument is a philosophical one. Philosophy and reality sometimes mesh. Let’s all keep track and see if it does this time.