Kicking and Screaming

Lessons are there to be learned by a series of events in the legislature during the last few days.  You may decide if there is something to be learned from this wandering that speaks to the long-term impact of politically-expedient short-term thinking. Or maybe it makes perfect sense to you and the actions were wise and judicious.

The Senate started debating a fix to the Second Injury Fund this week.  The fund is broke.  Thousands of Missourians claiming second job-related injuries have filed claims that are not being processed, let alone paid, because the fund is almost bereft of, well, funds.  One estimate says the fund could be a billion dollars short of meeting its obligations to 30,000 claimants.  Why is that?

Well, back in 2005, the legislature decided to be kind to the employers of those workers and imposed a limit on the taxes employers pay to support the fund that compensates their workers who are injured to the extent they cannot do their jobs well or at all.  And for eight years the taxes flowing into the fund have not kept pace with the claims filed by those workers.

The Senate started debating Senator Scott Rupp’s bill that doubles the tax to a figure that is still below what the state auditor says is needed.  When asked if the business community agreed with the proposal (a question that in itself is a clue to how much of state government operates these days), Rupp said they were going along with it “kicking and screaming.”  Rupp says the state won’t be able to settle all of the claims against the fund until at least 2020 even if his bill doubling the tax becomes law.

On the same day the Senate began debating the Second Injury Fund bill, a joint education committee released a new formula for funding higher education on the basis of institutional performance.  The study behind the formula says our higher education institutions already are underfunded to the tune of $388 million dollars. Significantly, the formula says that if these underfunded institutions don’t meet performance goals, they could lose ten percent of their already underfunded appropriations.

That study has come less than a week after Governor Nixon presented a proposed state budget that leaves funding for elementary and secondary education about $625 million under the levels the legislature promised schools they would be at by now in the latest foundation formula rewrite in–here’s that wonderful year again—2005.

The day after the Second Injury Fund debate started and the higher education formula was announced, two state senators, Mike Kehoe and Ryan Mckenna, unveiled their 10-year plan for a penny sales tax on motor fuels to pay for transportation needs.  Missourians have voted against increasing the regular fuel tax and proposals to charge tolls on our major highways have been shunted to the shoulder. The transportation department has dumped or is dumping 1500 employees, selling equipment, and closing dozens of facilities because it has only about half the money it used to have to take care of roads, bridges, railroads, airports, riverports, and limited mass transit. This plan will have to go to those reluctant voters if  it gets past the legislature and the governor, both of which or whom have been proud to proclaim “no tax increases” for years.

So how will the state legislature deal with all of these shortages it has identified in education and in the Second Injury Fund?


Well, it could always cut business and income taxes in an effort to keep Kansas from luring Missouri jobs across the border to a state that faces a $300 million budget deficit because of tax cuts.  Everybody should agree that the answer to shortfalls in funding obligations to things like education and the Second Injury Fund is less funding, shouldn’t they?

One of the advantages of being a state government reporter is that you get to wander the halls trying to find out what inspires lawmakers to do some of the things they do.  We think we have found the source of that inspiration.

During the legislative session, groups that want to make favorable impressions on senators and representatives arrange to serve meals, often in the third floor rotunda but sometimes lines form outside the doors of individual legislators’ offices.  All this food is made available at no cost to those who eat it. We confess to having no shame about gathering at the trough, too.  After all, to understand how the system works, participation in the system to some degree is helpful (if not always nutritious).  That’s our rationale and we’re sticking to it.

Yes, friends. At the Missouri Capitol there IS a free lunch.

That amazing, ginormous baby bump is the product of trickeration in a man cave

Thank you in advance for the shared sacrifice you are making as we seek to win the future of interpersonal communication that we hope is a new normal in your daily consumption of of quasi-news that will occupy your mind while you serve s a pet parent.   We provide opportunities for blowback at the end.

Well, there you have it–all of the words on the 2012 list of banished words as compiled by Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

The list came to mind the other day as I passed through a grocery store checkout line and one of the rags that likes to show us pictures of dying moving stars, wronged starlets, drugged up and drunk people who are famous only because they are famous, and pregnant public figures had an exclusive front page picture of Duchess Kate Middleton’s baby bump.   I felt sooooo relieved knowing that someone is out there watching Kate’s belly for any sign that she and her husband are — you know.

I don’t know which publication it was.  At least it did not say she was expecting a Martian.

The issue came up in some miscellaneous newsroom discussion this morning and John Perkins, I think it was, who is one of our Brownfield Network colleagues, opined as to how he thinks “baby bump” is one of those phrases that should be banned from the English language.  Or any language.  And that led to the Lake Superior University list of banished words.   A check of this year’s list shows that others have expressed this desire before John.

Each year the University compiles a list of words that become so catchy in the English language that they quickly begin to irritate the hell of of people who are able to communicate without babbling trendy phrases, worn-out words, weasely phrases — in other words, phrases and words that do not leave deep fingernail scratches on a mental blackboard.

Amazing” was the top vote-getter for this year’s list.  It is often pronounced “a-MAYZing” and replaces another banned word, “Awesome,” another word so overused and badly used that it produces winces.

Number two was “baby bump.”  Those who nominated the phrase said they “were tired of a pregnancy being reduced to a celebrity accessory,” and tired of a phrase that “makes pregnancy sound like some fun and in-style thing to do, not a serious choice made by (at the very least) the woman carrying the child.”

Third was “shared sacrifice.”   Fourth was “occupy,” which pushed one observer over the edge when he heard someone say “We are headed to Grandma’s House–Occupy Thanksgiving is underway.”

Blowback” is followed by “Man Cave,” with “the new normal,” which was praised (?) for being used to “justify bad trends…and to convince people that they are powerless to slow or reverse those trends.”

Those of us who own dogs or cats might find the phrase “pet parent” to be absolutely stupid although my cat Frederick thinks my wife and I are his staff.

Win the future” is followed by “Trickeration,” a word that seems to have come from the football broadcast booth and we all know how little comes from sports broadcasting booths that is useful in intelligent discussion.

The last two are “ginormous” and “thank you in advance.”

There’s more on the Lake Superior State University “banished words list” webpage, including lists from past years that when taken as a whole are a history of abuses and trendiness in the use of the English language, American version.

These lists also should give pause to those who proclaim that English should be the official language for all kinds of things.   If I were proficient in some foreign language and I read the list from LSSU, I would wonder why I should want to learn or be forced to learn a language such as this.

Listing words that need to be banished, unfortunately, carries little weight. The first list was compiled in 1976.  We still hear people talk about things “at this point in timethat are “meaningful” and are “input” into a “scenario” (although we don’t know that we have heard anybody talk of a “meaningful input scenario at this point in time.” lately).  We don’t hear “detente” very much anymore.  But “macho” and the linked words “implement” and “viable,” and “dialogue” are on that list and certainly there are times when it is important to implement viable dialogue, maybe during history class discussions of detente.

For the record, I have told the Missourinet news staff that I don’t like to see the word “input” in our stories.  “Output” seems to have been an established word in the language for a long time and is not as irritating as “input.”   The worst “put” word has to be “throughput,” which sometimes provokes in this writer’s body a reaction similar to some of the morning activities of those with baby bumps.

At another grocery store today the checkout clerk told me to “have a good one.”   That was on the 2001 list.

Sometimes I answer, “Thank you, I do.”   But maybe the best way to stamp out that phrase is for all of us to respond, “Why can’t I have two?” Maybe the cheerful clerk will for the first time think of what he or she said.  If enough of them do, we will take a ginormous step toward cleaner use of our language.


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.