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Covering Missouri with Show-Me State Skepticism

Whether it is battling big business or policing politicians, a good dose of skepticism is needed to report on the state's economy.

Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help you internalize your goals and keep you on track.

Tom Marcinko, reporting for the Columbia Journalism Review, crystalized the mission for me in an article profiling Missouri Journal this week.

As owner and sole staff member of Missouri Journal, he writes, that I cover "Missouri politics with the Show-Me State's well-known skepticism."

I have always liked the state motto, readily admitting I am a skeptical person. However, I never realized until reading his phrasing how well journalism and a Show-Me attitude fit together.

Whether it is examining the records or asking leaders questions, I want to see or hear proof.

Battling Big Business

After seeing a layoff notice for 1,222 workers filed by Ford Motor Co., I wanted to know if it was possible for a company to receive incentives after a mass layoff. Ford has responded to some questions, but the state has been mostly unresponsive.

Filing a Sunshine Law request paid off, however. A "notice of intent" record reveals that the company will not be eligible to retain withholding taxes on new jobs until after it brings back the workers.

There may be a loophole available, however, for other companies to exploit.

According to analysis of the Missouri Manufacturing Jobs Act, there appears to be nothing written in the statute prohibiting a company from claiming returning workers following layoffs, or new hires after firings, as new jobs, depending on when the company files its notice of intent required by the state.

If a company were to fire workers and then file the notice, the company may be eligible for incentives.

In the case of Ford, for its facility near Kansas City, the automaker may still be eligible for other incentives. I am still waiting to see documents and the state has yet to answer any questions.

Policing Politicians

As I have reported on numerous times in the past, despite frequent talk of budget cuts, overall state spending is likely to continue to increase. Therefore, when the numbers show the Missouri House voted on a budget totaling nearly $1 billion more than proposed by the governor, I reported it.

Republicans, who control the Missouri General Assembly, were not happy.

Missouri Rep. Casey Guernsey, a Republican from Bethany wanted to know who I was and asked whether I worked for a political campaign. "I sometimes read your stories," he said in an email.

"They always lead me to believe you have no background in state budget matters."

I received an email from Missouri House Budget Chair Ryan Silvey, a Republican from Kansas City, telling me their budget is "much more transparent and reflects what was actually being spent."

Silvey said they removed the "E" at the end of appropriations, which stood for estimated.

In response, I pointed out that I wrote Republicans will argue the proposal by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, was not balanced. And whether an appropriation has and "E" or not at the end, a budget plan, after all, is still an estimate. It does not become an expenditure until after the money is spent.

Therefore, when comparing appropriation amounts, the plan to spend $24 billion next fiscal year by representatives would increase spending 3.4 percent from the amount approved for this fiscal year.

While budgets for departments or programs may go down, total spending trends upward.

The numbers show that in the last 30 years, total expenditures dropped year-over-year only three times, while spending increased 468 percent from $3.9 billion in 1981 to $22.2 billion in 2011.

Show-Me State Reporting

Residents of the Show-Me State deserve and demand to see the proof.

Therefore, it is my goal to gather and provide factual information.

At times, one side or another will likely be upset with me, while others cheer me on.

I am also bound to make mistakes along the way.

Therefore, please call me out when this happens and I will make the necessary corrections.

As always, I welcome your news tips and feedback.

And feel free to contact me directly or leave comments below.

By Brian R. Hookbrhook@missourijournal.com, (314) 482-7944

Hook is editor of Missouri Journal, which tracks the economy across the Show-Me State

For news updates, sign up for a newsletter and follow Missouri Journal on Twitter and Facebook.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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