Kansas City foots the bill for rural areas, but GOP politicians ignore urban concerns

·3 min read

U.S. Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri’s 8th District has written the White House, worried the federal government might shortchange rural areas.

The administration may raise the threshold for a what’s defined as a “metropolitan statistical area” from 50,000 people, where it’s been since 1950, to 100,000 people. The feds sometimes use MSAs when figuring out where to spend money.

Four smaller Missouri cities might drop off the MSA list if the standard is raised. That’s too much for Rep. Smith, and Gov. Mike Parson, and Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, who signed the letter.

“Too often, Washington, D.C. fails to acknowledge or take into account the interests of rural America,” Smith said in a statement.

What?

Federal taxpayers pour hundreds of billions of dollars into rural areas every year — from farm subsidies to Medicare to food stamps to education benefits. Rural states such as Missouri get far more federal benefits than they pay in taxes, studies show: In 2019, for example, the average Missourian got $3,837 more in federal goodies than he or she paid in taxes.

Moreover, city dwellers provide the funds for public projects in rural areas. Who subsidizes rural broadband? City folks, that’s who. Who pays for highways? Cities, mostly. “Prosperity in cities and metropolitan areas effectively subsidizes public investments in rural areas,” the Brookings Institution says.

“Kansas City and St. Louis pay the bills in this state,” current state Sen. John Rizzo said several years ago. “But our voices fall on deaf ears when it comes to making the laws of this state.”

You might think city people would object to this. Actually, city politicians are generally predisposed to helping their rural neighbors.

What cities would like in return is to simply be left alone. In Missouri, fat chance.

Rural lawmakers control KC police, guns, taxes

In ways large and small, rural legislators in Missouri spend most of their careers imposing their views and values on cities, taking urban resources but rarely giving back.

Missouri controls the Kansas City Police Department, and wants to expand that influence. It refuses to allow Kansas City to enact gun laws relevant to urban needs. Rural voters insisted Kansas Citians vote every five years on renewing our 1% earnings tax.

Kansas City raised the minimum wage; state legislators shot it down. Urban voters wanted to end puppy mills; Parson wanted to keep ‘em going.

Nowhere is this imbalance clearer than on the issue of Medicaid expansion. Incredibly, some rural lawmakers said this year they wouldn’t pay for the expansion that voters overwhelmingly approved because their rural constituents voted against it. Apparently, in Missouri, rural votes count more than urban votes.

Even worse, some rural legislators opposed paying for expanded Medicaid because it might worsen the federal deficit. “The federal government has no money,” said Missouri House Budget Chair Cody Smith of Carthage, back in April. “They are federal deficit spending at a rate that is unprecedented at this point.”

So let’s get this straight: Expanding Medicaid is a red-ink disaster, but a 70-year-old population metric can’t be changed because it might reduce federal spending for rural areas. Makes perfect sense.

We’re ready to make a deal: Cities will help pay for rural broadband, rural roads and bridges, rural health care, rural education, all of it. We’ll help with the COVID-19 pandemic even though you won’t get your shots. We’ll support keeping Joplin and St. Joseph on the MSA list.

In exchange, we ask for the right to make the best decisions for our community, free from your interference. No?