If politicians weren’t so self-contradictory, political reporters would have no fun at all. Saying one thing and doing another, saying different things in different places, taking positions that seem opposite from similar positions provide fodder for those in the press or in the citizenry at large who hope for stability in the political system, particularly stability based on the highest ideals of service to all of the people. That’s an awfully high bar and probably an unrealistic one but without expecting the highest levels of commitment and service, the alternative can too easily become the lowest level of results.
The leader of the Missouri Senate, Senator Ron Richard, loves the Capitol. Even before he became Speaker of the House in 2009, Richard was aware of the building’s deteriorating condition and was looking for a way to restore and maintain the state’s greatest symbol. We talked during his time as Speaker of his hopes to establish an endowment program, an idea that was worthy but not likely to attract the kind of money that, instead, flows too easily to those who want to hold office in that building.
But what a wonderful thing that would be! Imagine the endowment that could be established if, say, Rex Sinquefield and the Humphreys family—two entities that throw millions of dollars at candidates every election cycle—would make the same kind of commitment to the Capitol in just one off-year. It’s not fair to single them out so imagine the endowment that could be created if all of the other special interests and individuals who underwrite campaigns wrote comparable checks to the Capitol endowment fund just once.
But that’s one of the contradictions of our political system. Restoring and maintaining the building where policy is enacted is always going to be much less important than influencing the people who enact the policies and maintaining that influence. What value is there in making sure the state’s most powerful symbol of democracy crumbles when money can be better invested in making sure democracy itself, as an institution for the benefit of all, crumbles in the face of protection for the few?
Senator Richard thinks he finally has found a lever that can move his idea for restoring and preserving the State Capitol. A tax credit program.
About fifty million dollars is being spent fixing some horrible leaks under the south front Capitol stairs. The water running into basement spaces is causing numerous problems for those who work or store things there. The money is provided by a bond issue and is therefore limited and has to be paid back out of the general tax collections. Richard’s plan would provide some ongoing funding without lowering the amount available to pay for state operations.
Richard proposes changes to the present Historic Preservation Tax Credit program that’s important in communities throughout the state. Some of Richard’s conservative legislative colleagues have a low opinion of them regardless of the value they have to their home towns. He suggests reducing the historic tax credits by ten million dollars and shifting twenty million dollars into a special fund that could be grown to restore, repair, and maintain the Capitol.
It’s kind of complicated but some of the proceeds from the program would be spent to solicit donations into the Capitol endowment fund. He thinks his plan would encourage people and trusts and foundations to contribute to the fund, which also would support ongoing needs of the Executive Mansion, the Transportation Department building—which the legislature wants to take over as a Capitol office annex—and, maybe, the Supreme Court Building.
A Senate committee has held a hearing on Richard’s proposal to give it a first public airing. Richard knows the idea won’t go anywhere this year but he’s gotten it on the table and hopes it can be passed next year. Some fine-tuning is likely because it seems to raise some concerns in the local historic preservation movement.
But it’s a good start for a proposal to preserve a symbol of the best that Missouri can be.
It’s interesting that Senator Richard wants to raise millions of dollars to preserve and protect the Capitol at the same time he is insisting the Senate spend thousands and thousands of dollars to tear up one of the architectural treasures of the building—the Senate visitors’ gallery—so he can kick the press off of the floor of the Senate where they have sat at a table since the building was brand new, all because of a complaint that grows more petty with the passage of time.
Contradictions. Reporters love them. In this case, though, it appears that those who live by the contradiction will suffer by one of them. Too bad the money earmarked for the effort against legislative reporters couldn’t be invested, instead, in Richard’s more praiseworthy effort to preserve and protect the building—including preserving the Senate visitor’s gallery.