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Recent Missouri editorials

August 7, 2018

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Aug. 4

Fighting for a living wage, legislators notwithstanding

St. Louis hourly workers benefited briefly last year from an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour within the city, well above Missouri’s then-statewide level of $7.70. It was a recognition by city leaders that the state rate wasn’t adequate for working people to raise families.

It took just four months for the Republican-led Legislature to step in and override the city ordinance with a state law forcing St. Louis’ minimum wage back down to the lower state standard. It was a stark illustration of the GOP’s callousness toward the working poor, not to mention the shallowness of its own supposed dedication to the concept of local self-governance.

Now workers will have a chance at the polling place to regain that lost ground — not just in St. Louis, but throughout the state. Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft last week certified the necessary signatures to place on the November ballot a gradual statewide minimum-wage increase that would take it to $12 an hour by 2023. That election is still three months away, but the time is now for proponents to start whipping up support for this necessary override of the Legislature.

Proposition B in November will raise the current state minimum wage to $8.60 in 2019, and then by 85 cents each year until it reaches $12 in 2023.

In contrast to the sharp jump of St. Louis’ brief minimum wage hike, this will give employers a chance to adjust with relatively low hikes that build over time. And it will give workers something closer to a living wage. That’s a crucial component if Missouri wants to increase its population and restore life to its cities. Besides, putting extra money in the hands of baseline consumers is the fastest and most surefire way to generate healthy economic churn.

As Scott Sandler, owner of Pizza Head in St. Louis and a supporter of the measure, put it last week: “It’s important to look at wages as an investment instead of a cost. The return on investment includes lower employee turnover, which saves time and money in hiring, training and managing new employees. It includes better customer service and higher productivity. And it builds a stronger economy.”

Ballot initiatives aren’t the best way to run a state, but with a Legislature so hostile to workers’ rights and needs, there is little choice on this issue and another: Missourians will decide this Tuesday on Proposition A, on asking if they want to sustain “right-to-work” legislation that would erode labor bargaining power. We have already argued that “no” is the right vote on Prop A. If voters agree, it should send legislators a strong signal of how this state’s working class views pocketbook and labor issues. Legislators mess with them at their peril.

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The St. Joseph News-Press, Aug. 4

Finally, progress for port

From 2001 to now, multiple government entities spent at least $4 million developing and upgrading the facilities of the St. Joseph Regional Port Authority. And for what?

Well, for starters, for exactly what occurred last week and will continue this week along the banks of the Missouri River.

A large empty barge arrived at the port Wednesday. It will be loaded with distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), a nutrient-rich co-product of ethanol production. The product comes largely from the St. Joseph Lifeline Foods / ICM ethanol plant, and from some other ethanol plants in the region.

It’s what happens next that holds so much potential. A river tow company, Missouri River Services, is due to pick up the full barge by Wednesday for its trip down the river, eventually delivering the product of our region and its ethanol industry to the Gulf of Mexico and international markets.

DDGS is in high demand as a feed ingredient used as both an energy and protein supplement. U.S. ethanol plants can produce an estimated 44 million metric tons of DDGS in a year, and in 2016-2017 about 11 million metric tons were exported — compared to 1 million metric tons exported a decade earlier.

Our producers have an in-demand product and a willingness to ship it, but we cannot be a player in this export trade without efficiencies linked to barge transportation. One barge is expected to replace the need for 58 large semi-trucks to carry the same tonnage across the state to St. Louis, for off-loading for a barge trip to the Gulf.

Bill Becker, a founder and former CEO of Lifeline Foods, now leads newly formed Transport 360, which in June took over as the operator of the port authority. Becker said then he can see a real opportunity “to make this thing go,” and right now everyone who sees value in the port should feel optimistic.

It has been more than four years since the last barge docked in St. Joseph. Much of this has to do with issues with how the river was managed, limiting reliable barge navigation. But it’s also fair to question whether previous port managers were up to the challenging task of developing our port to reach its potential.

Transport 360 predicts a number of other barges will be filled with DDGS from our region through the remainder of the 2018 navigation season ending in December. Each one of these shipments is one more than what we have experienced for several years, and each will add export revenue to the local economy.

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The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 3

We welcome the statewide expansion of a pilot program to treat opioid victims.

Last week, we published a story by the Associated Press that reported a St. Louis-area program called Engaging Patients in Care Coordination, or EPICC, will be expanded across the state within a year.

The pilot program treated about 2,000 people who have overdosed on addictive opioid-based painkillers. About 70 percent of patients under the St. Louis pilot program were in treatment six months after visiting the hospital.

Less than 10 percent of patients had sought treatment six months after the previous protocol, which sent patients home after treating them with opioid-overdose antidote naloxone, the AP reported.

“Historically, we did not have any options for patients beyond helping with their current crisis and hoping that they get access to resources,” said Jonathan Heidt, emergency medicine director for the University of Missouri’s health system.

The program is funded by federal State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis grants.

Which brings us to another point: If you read this page even occasionally, you’ve read the constant reminders from our letter writers that our federal government continues to spend money it doesn’t have.

That’s why we also support Cole County’s decision to join in a national lawsuit against opioid makers, distributors and pharmacies. The Cole County Commission approved a resolution and agreement Tuesday to have Eccher Law Group of St. Louis represent the county in the suit.

Eastern District Commissioner Jeff Hoelscher questioned whether joining the lawsuit was the best course of action. We live in a litigious society, and the result might only be higher costs passed down to the consumer, he argued.

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