NIXON'S WEEK 3 GRADE: B
Week 3 was budget decision time for Governor Nixon. It's a given that "when you decide, you divide." The question is how well Nixon carved out his priorities, crafted the cuts and balanced the political risk with the potential reward for himself and the state. During the closing of the campaign, Nixon consistently repeated the mantra, "We're not going to wait for Washington to act." But now Nixon's biggest budget gamble for 2010 relies on a stimulus package arriving from D.C. Four of the five most influential print entities lead their Wednesday stories with Nixon relying on stimulus money to meet his campaign promises of health care and higher ed. The Columbia Tribune bucked the trend of the big five, leading with the cuts. (Big 5 being: AP, Post-Dispatch, KC Star, News-Leader, Columbia Tribune) How much to depend on the stimulus will be a key battleground this session, and it appears to be Nixon's biggest risk. Dems say it would be irresponsible not to take into consideration the funds, but Republicans seem adamantly against using one-time money to expand health care or any other social welfare programs. And the Republicans raise a relevant question: What would Nixon's budget look like without a federal bailout? On the other hand, when Nixon announced his proposal to fire 1300 state workers, it was the Republicans who applauded while Democrats sat on their hands. Nixon gets points for balance in his speech. His tone was appropriate. His pledge not to raise taxes and to expand the Quality Jobs Act (a Blunt program) indicated that on the most important issue (the economy), there seems to be many points of agreement. Nixon is almost daring the G.O.P. to try to torpedo his bold higher-ed-funding-for-stable-tuition deal, and if he can keep it together, he'll probably have the political capital to get away with his other less popular moves like halting MOHELA construction and trimming MU-Extension. The Republicans also have some tough questions to answer themselves. Take away the one-time funds, and what do you "can" for next year? Health care expansion, ok. But where else? Still, while Nixon is promising the smallest, most efficient state government in history, his reliance on the stimulus to balance the books is giving the G.O.P. their first real point of conservative contrast with the new Governor. And if Nixon needs to be reminded that there are still enemies in his midst, he need not look any further than the questions surrounding Linda Martinez's views on illegal immigration. The conventional wisdom must give the new Guv. the benefit of the doubt for a creative, pragmatic budget approach, with full-awareness that the real battle over one-time money has really just begun.