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Classes and my senior year of college don’t begin until tomorrow morning, but I’m excited for this semester nonetheless. Today, I had two meetings that have determined how busy this semester will be — and it will be very busy.

The first meeting was the staff photo meeting at The Columbia Missourian, a morning city newspaper affiliated with the MU School of Journalism and staffed completely (except for certain editorial positions) by students. I’ve been a reporter for The Missourian for a year, during which I reported on now-attorney general Chris Koster’s general election campaign, the state budget and other such state political and economic news.

Now, I’m one of several staff photographers. I’m looking forward to this, mostly because I haven’t been on the field and behind a camera since freshman year, when I shot for The Maneater student newspaper. (In sophomore year, I was the Maneater photo editor, and last year I was doing political reporting for The Missourian.) I’ve talked to a few now-alumni who were also staff photographers at The Missourian. Among other things, they urged me to be enterprising and proactive in what I shoot.

“Take advantage of that press badge, and work your stories,” one told me (I’m paraphrasing — that conversation was several weeks ago). “Think of one story you want to follow all semester, and work toward that. It’s good exercise for you, good for The Missourian and good for your resume and portfolio.”

Which is exactly what the Missourian‘s new director of photography, Josh, said.

During the staff meeting, Josh reiterated the importance of being proactive, even if it means getting just a standalone photo published. He repeated his desire/the need to make The Missourian more visual.

“We die if we don’t have ideas,” he said. “The balloon deflates, and the reporters take over.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve already got a leg up on being proactive. Last semester, my Jefferson City editor Phill Brooks gave me a long-term article I never completed or even began: an in-depth look at rural poverty.

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Today is the last day of the first regular session for Missouri’s 95th General Assembly, and my last day of regular legislative reporting for The Columbia Missourian.

Yesterday, the House adjourned abnormally early — just after 4 p.m. — especially since that was the penultimate day of session. As I learned via Twitter updates (courtesy of @ChadLivengood, @Missourinet and a few others), the House is waiting for the Senate to pass House Bill 191, which has been called the “economic development bill” by some and the “jobs bill” by others. Either way you call it, it was filibustered in the Senate last night, as were several other ecodevo/jobs bills that the House has sent to that chamber.

As of 10:44 a.m., the Senate is still third-reading that bill.

No matter what happens, though, the gavel goes down at 6 p.m., and in the House at least, the legislators will throw their papers in the air. I’m excited and hope this closing day will go out with a bang.

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Multimedia.

I first heard that word being slung around in mass use when I arrived at MU and started doing activities with my Freshman Interest Group (FIG — wherein you live in the same dorm and take at least three classes with about 15 other freshmen in your major). The faculty adviser for my “Women in Journalism” FIG was Lynda Kraxberger, who chairs the MU Journalism School’s convergence sequence.

And almost every journalism professor I’ve had since has gravely informed us journalism students how vital multimedia is as a dynamic informational and/or visual tool that we all must learn.

I don’t doubt it.

I’m glad that multimedia is going to be a large component of my summer internship at washingtonpost.com.

And on that note: For today’s 3:30 p.m. class in Advanced Techniques, we are to link to an audio slideshow that “you think are well done, or ones you think have some good points but could be improved,” according to the syllabus.

I saw this slideshow when it first came out on washingtonpost.com, back in October after the stocks plummeted and everyone — not just the insiders and reporters — realized that the housing bubble and credit bubbles had finally burst. I still like it. What can I say? I’m a dork about the economy.

Click HERE to view “Anatomy of a Crisis,” narrated by Frank Ahrens of The Washington Post.

I like this slideshow for a few reasons:

  • Unlike a lot of audio slideshows out there, it’s not simply a linear photo story about a singular subject.
  • It is a simple, highly informative piece dealing with noteworthy and newsworthy events and issues that affect the entire nation.
  • It integrates photos and infographics, often alongside each other.
  • It makes you wonder at the end how on earth the slideshow producer pulled so many different images of houses together and turn it into an engaging (and, again, highly informative) slideshow whose visuals work with the audio and never get boring.

Maybe this kind of economic stuff does bore people. But hey — this is the kind of audio slideshow I’m excited about: short, succinct, informative, visual and engaging. And hopefully that’s the kind of multimedia I’ll get to help produce this summer.

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The Missouri House Budget Committee convened at 8 a.m. Wednesday to review amendment proposals and vote on the House’s version of the state budget for fiscal year 2010. After breaking for 10 a.m. session in the House chamber and lunch, the committee reconvened and didn’t adjourn until 11:50 p.m. on Wednesday.

That’s 14ish hours of committee hearing.

I was there for 11 of them.

Right now (3 a.m. on Thursday), the only story I’ve got written and published is a pretty basic rundown of the 13 House bills that comprise the House’s version of the budget and that were passed. But I am currently in the process of collecting/compiling data to write up at least one — if not two or three — more story about the proposed budget that was just passed. Hopefully I’ll have those done before I head back to Jeff City around 9 a.m.

But just for fun, here are the bare-bones facts of my personal experience in covering the House Budget Committee hearing yesterday:

  • When I arrived (12:30 p.m.), the hearing room was standing room only. So I stood. In heels. And the day before (Tuesday), I’d twisted my ankle that I’d sprained a year ago. So that was a little painful.
  • I stood — in heels, with a bum ankle — for about eight hours. That’s how long it took before people started leaving and there were seats available.
  • All I’d eaten before arriving at the hearing was some soup and a cookie. When there was a 15-minute break around 7 p.m., I had a bag of baked Lay’s potato chips. Until I got home about an hour ago, that was all I had to eat all day.
  • When Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, found out I hadn’t been there for the morning part of the hearing, he told me I was disappointing my parents by not doing my job. When I told him I’d been in class all morning, he then said I was definitely doing my job. Hmm.

As for the title of this entry? I forget who it was, but when the new radio reporters arrived at the bureau this semester, I told one of them that Rule No. 1 in the statehouse is to wear comfortable shoes. A woman who was standing nearby said, “Very true” and nodded emphatically (I didn’t know who she was — and still don’t).

Comfortable shoes are a must if you’re going to be chasing legislators around the statehouse or standing in a crowded committee hearing room for eight hours at a time.

Unfortunately, I broke Rule No. 1 today.

I wore my black strappy heels — because they are the only dress/business shoes I can wear with my leg splint, which I needed because of my bum ankle. Put another way: because of my bum ankle, I had to wear uncomfortable shoes while standing for eight hours straight.

Of course, that’s just the way things always seem to work!

And now to hammer out this story/these stories before I get ready to return to Jeff City. I have about five hours to do this. Let’s go!

 

Update (10:35 a.m.):

My fuller story has been posted! Click HERE to read it.

And now I am back in the bureau, after getting two hours of sleep, and have no idea what’s in store for me today. Oh boy.

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Long story short, I am kind of obsessed with the economy.

More than a few of my friends, classmates and coworkers can testify to this.

In fact, when my Facebook status a few days ago was “Chris congratulates the Dow for its 3.3 percent growth today!,” one of my coworkers in the Jeff City bureau commented with, “haha, when I heard this on the radio earlier today, I thought of you :)”

I wasn’t always like this.

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The Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council released a report containing its “recommendations on how to best implement the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009] in and for Missouri and its Citizens.”

The report is dated Feb. 27, but as far as I know, it was released today. At least, my editor Phill Brooks had Emily Younker come into the Senate chamber — where I was this evening — and deliver the 17-page report. Which you can see for yourself if you click HERE.

Here’s a general breakdown, as far as I understand it.

One of Gov. Jay Nixon’s first acts as governor was to sign three executive orders. The second executive order created the Missouri Economic Stimulus Coordination Council — which, according to the press release, was established to make recommendations on:

  • Coordinating job creation activities with the Missouri Congressional delegation and the current and incoming federal administrations
  • Identifying the best practices for the State of Missouri to utilize to ensure that the State of Missouri is included at the maximum possible level in appropriations from a federal stimulus package
  • Identifying any other practices that the State of Missouri should adopt to maximize its relationship with the federal government

Nixon specified that the recommendations report be delivered to him by Feb. 27 (hence the date on its first page) and that the council be dissolved on March 1.

The council has made 10 points and recommendations:

  1. Time is of the essence — Stimulus funds will be available at different points in fiscal year 2009 (or, what remains of it), fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011. The council recommends that the state “suspend or waive certain rules in order to meet the threshold requirements to maximize the receipt of dollars” and that the funds “be spent as expeditiously as possible” (pg. 2). The council also recognizes that “this is a multi-year process, not an overnight miracle” (pg. 2).
  2. A cooperative effort is needed — The council diplomatically asks that stimulus funds appropriations not become hampered by party politics or divisions between the legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
  3. Missouri should have one application for competitive dollars — To maximize the state’s odds of receiving competitive grant awards, the council recommends that Missouri “have one submission for each Competitive Grant” (pg. 3). The council also urges the state to “establish a temporary Washington, D.C., presence focused on Missouri’s interests and issues under the ARRA and work closely with the Missouri Congressional Delegation” (pg. 3)
  4. A specific state agency must be assigned to each appropriation resource — There’s a typo (underlined) in this part of the 17-page document: “the Council recommends that each specific section of the ARRA be assigned a an Agency as the lead, responsible point of contact” (pg. 3). But anyway.
  5. A statewide focus is required — The council notes that certain parts of the ARRA focus on rural areas (especially regarding broadband access, public safety, safety net funding, business development and health care). That in mind, the council declares that “the ARRA itself and the mandates of bipartisnaship dictate that both rural, suburban and urban areas receive attention” (pg. 4). [NOTE: There are many comma splices and misuses of the word "both" in this document. Especially in this section.]
  6. Twinning increases the impact — Programs under the ARRA can be coupled (“twinned”) with other ARRA dollars. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but the council says, “ARRA dollars from one program can be invested or expended with other dollars authorized by this Act” (pg. 4) and recommends that Nixon’s Transform Missouri Initiative “work with all state agencies, the Legislature and all concerned governmental parties to identify and maximize twinning opportunities presented by the ARRA” (pg. 4)
  7. Recommendations by individual council members are submitted — Several council members wrote separate recommendations about certain portions of the ARRA. These recommendations have been submitted separately and are on public record somewhere. I’m not sure where. I wish the report told us.
  8. Sustainable jobs and programs should be created — The council outlines four areas where ARRA funds be spent “in a sustainable fashion” (pg. 4). These areas include 1) retaining workers in “hard hit sectors,” 2) enticing businesses to expand or grow in Missouri by creating incentives, 3) fund “long-term multi-year construction projects” and 4) “twinning investment and human capital for a long-term sustainable result” (pg. 4).
  9. An opportunity exists for long-term planning — MEDICAID.
  10. Accountability and transparency are required — Yeah. Okay. So I want to know: what about those individual council members’ recommendations, which were filed separately and are apparently “on public record”? Where are those?

The council concludes the report by emphasizing that the report “was a bipartisan, focused, short-term effort.”

The remaining 12 pages expound upon specific statements and examples in the report’s first five pages. Again, you can find the entire 17-page document HERE.

I’m not sure why the report was made available only today, since the council no longer exists as of three days ago. (For the record: I began writing this post at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, March 4. When I’m done, it’ll probably be Thursday — and, therefore, “as of four days ago.”)

For the record: I’ve said this before, but I’m really not trying to turn this into a political analysis or political news blog. Really. This is all about transparency and public access to public information, and it just so happens that I’m the budget reporter… so it just so happens that whatever information I receive will be budget-/stimulus-related information… so it just so happens that, in the interest of transparency and access, I will post that budget-/stimulus-related information if it is public record.

Really. This blog is all about journalism and photography. I promise.

On that note, here are related, earlier posts and documents about the budget and stimulus:

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  • BRIEF, POST-ADDRESS ANALYSIS

According to Politico, Jindal was set to face a tough audience:

Note to Bobby Jindal: They’re going to hate you.

When you deliver the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday night, the critics will fault your style and delivery. Your rhetoric will be panned as empty and partisan. Some in your party inevitably will question whether you were up to the job.

His style and delivery were unlike any I’ve recently heard coming from a major politician. As @gerik noted on Twitter, Jindal sounded like he was reading a bedtime story to the American audience. It was truly an interesting choice in tone and delivery. Perhaps Jindal was going for the comforting tone of voice — but dare I say it almost sounded patronizing?

I really don’t like to deliver my own opinion on political matters in a public forum — especially since this is supposed to be a journalism/photography blog — but I don’t think Jindal’s speech was extremely partisan. He wasn’t as outspoken as I’d kinda thought he’d be, based on his record and reputation as one of the most vocal opponents to at least certain parts of the stimulus package.

All in all, it seemed to be a very carefully thought-out, measured speech written with restraint. And, according to the Washington Post, Jindal himself wrote it.

  • 9:38 p.m. CST –

“Americans can do anything.” — Jindal

Following the train of “God bless (insert name),” Jindal concludes his speech in 12 minutes.

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  • BRIEF, POST-ADDRESS ANALYSIS

According to CNN, Obama spoke for 52 minutes.

That’s nearly half an hour of trying to assure Americans and whomever else was watching that the federal stimulus package will jumpstart the economy, create jobs and start down the path of solving long-term problems in energy, education and health care. The rest of the speech addressed his promises of cutting the federal deficit by half and issuing tax breaks, as well as foreign policy issues.

And, of course, it ended on a note of bipartisanship.

Why wasn’t this the State of the Union address?

There were so many promises made, but so few details revealed — at least, about the questions I have. I hoped to hear more about stimulating the financial system and what the states specifically can do to promote growth in energy, education and health care, but to promise to find a cure for cancer and reform health care this year and deliver tax cuts to 95 percent of working Americans? Those were not the details I expected or wanted to hear.

Obama’s full, prepared remarks can be found HERE, courtesy of BreakingNewsOn.

Next up: live-blogging of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s response on behalf of the Republican Party.

  • 9:09 p.m. CST –

Obama ends his first Congressional address on a note of bipartisanship:

“I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

“And if we do – if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, “something worthy to be remembered.” Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.”

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This morning, Budget Director Linda Luebbering and the governor’s senior financial adviser Paul Wilson held a state budget overview with a few members of the State Capitol press corps.

I don’t intend for this blog to become a political news blog like The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Political Fix or The Kansas City Star’s Prime Buzz. That’s just silly — this blog doesn’t get nearly the readership that either of those does, and this is supposed to be a journalism/photography blog.

But in the interest of transparency, I do want to lay out a few details about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and its impact on Missouri’s state budget.

  • FOR FULL DETAILS: I scanned and PDF’ed the 13-page briefing the Budget Office provided to reporters today. I have no qualms with sharing this document on-line because the meeting was completely on the record. Click HERE for the 13-page briefing on the federal stimulus package and how it affects Missourians. (I apologize for the random notes and scribblings on several pages.)

In summary, the federal stimulus package will provide Missouri with at least $4 billion. Several more millions — if not billions — of dollars can be acquired through certain provisions of the stimulus package. I’ve outlined the package very loosely, below. Again, FULL DETAILS can be found in the 13-page document I scanned.

Funds from the stimulus package are channeled through three categories, plus two other components (which I’ve also listed as categories) that can benefit Missourians.

  • CATEGORY I: Budget Stabilization Funds

Made up of less than 10 percent of the entire stimulus package, this pot of money is one of the most controversial because of the many stipulations placed on the use of its funds. Basically, this fund is designed to help state governments avoid cutting from their education and Medicaid budgets.

A total of $2.171 billion has been allocated to Missouri for state stabilization purposes. $921 million is designated for education funding, with 81.1 percent ($753 million) specifically for direct education support and the remaining 18.2 percent ($168 million) for other expenditures such as renovations and public safety.

$1.25 billion has been designated for Medicaid reimbursements, but Missouri cannot use any of the funds if the state alters its Medicaid eligibility rules. No funds appropriated for FMAP (Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentage) can be put into a reserve or rainy day fund.

  • CATEGORY II: Existing Federal Program Funds

Using pre-existing formulas and rules, the funds in this category will go almost directly from the federal government to existing federal programs. Examples include transportation (some of which is handled by local/municipal authorities), worker (re)training, law enforcement funding, food stamps, etc.

Federally, this category draws about 25 percent of the $787 billion in the stimulus package. For Missouri specifically, about $1.829 billion is allocated to this category. See the 13-page document (pgs. 3-5) for more details about which programs are listed and how much is appropriated to each.

  • CATEGORY III: Competitive Grants

This is where Missouri — and other states, for that matter — can really draw in the big bucks. The previous two categories are where the overall $4 billion number comes from. But this category, which occupies about 1/3 of the stimulus funds, allows states to compete for extensive grants in order to boost their economies.

These hundreds of billions of dollars available for whichever states are most competitive are the basis of Gov. Jay Nixon’s “Transform Missouri Initiative,” which he announced on Wednesday during a press conference.

  • CATEGORY IV: Tax Relief

A good chunk of the stimulus package is “committed to individual and business tax breaks” (pg. 8 of the 13-page overview document). This is to provide incentive for job creation, etc.

  • CATEGORY V: Enhanced Economic Recovery Financing Tools

This category addresses mostly larger businesses, by enhancing financial tools such as bonds and tax exemptions.

For further reading: Here’s my article from Thursday’s Columbia Missourian. It’s a general explanation of the above (with fewer details, because those details were not available until today) and includes some commentary from Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin; Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood; and Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

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President Barack Obama is to sign the federal economic stimulus bill into law at 2:30 p.m. CST in Denver, Colo. In my research of the bill (also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009), I’ve found a few valuable links definitely worth sharing.

For some of these (mostly the bill’s actual language), I’m a few days late. For others (mostly the later links via the National Conference of State Legislators), the information has just been posted online. Regardless of the timeliness of this influx of information, it’s valuable stuff and I hope it’s helpful.

First — the bill’s actual language is available on-line. If you care to sift or skim through more than 1,000 pages of legislative and economic lingo, here’s your heyday. I just hope these links, courtesy of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, will be permanent.

  • Official press release from office of Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) — contains the usual strong statements found in press releases
  • Summary overview of the stimulus bill — provides a quick and dirty breakdown of appropriations to various sectors/departments
  • Detailed summary of the stimulus bill — contains more language on various appropriations highlighted in the summary overview (previous link)
  • Accountability provisions — establishes all presets and oversight regulations of the bill
  • Bill Text: Division A — is the full, actual bill language of the accountability provisions and the purposes/principles
  • Bill Text: Division B — is the full, actual bill language on the tax provisions/incentives for businesses and programs and the tax relief for individuals and families
  • Joint Statement: Division A — is the full, actual language regarding the conference between the House and Senate on Division A of the bill text
  • Joint Statement: Division B — is the full, actual language regarding the conference between the House and Senate on Division B of the bill text

Also, here are some more federal government PDFs I found via the National Conference of State Legislators’ Web site. These are mostly summaries to show direct impact.

  • Full summary of provisions — reduces the bill lingo into common-sense terms, via the Senate Finance, House Ways and Means Committees; has information breakdown of the following topics:
    • tax relief for individuals/families
    • tax incentives for businesses
    • manufacturing recovery provisions
    • economic recovery tools
    • infrastructure financing tools
    • reinvestment in renewable energy
    • assistance for families and unemployed workers
    • health insurance assistance
    • state fiscal relief and medicaid
    • health information technology
    • trade provisions
    • debt limit
  • Detailed summary of energy and commerce provisions — reduces the bill lingo into common-sense terms, via the U.S. House; has information breakdown of the following topics:
    • provisions on Medicaid and the unemployed
    • health information technology
    • provisions on broadband infrastructure
    • provisions on energy
  • Congressional Budget Office’s estimate on the bill’s budgetary impact — includes the official letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as five pages of charts/tables detailing the estimated costs of the bill

Finally, here are some more links via NCSL. These are more information breakdowns intended to help state legislators and the general public read more into the bill’s language and impact.

So. Those are all the resources I found from the federal government and a very trustworthy NGO (i.e., NCSL) regarding the U.S.’s biggest stimulus package since World War II. Happy reading!

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