Time to Repeal the Hancock Amendment?

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Mel Hancock

Mel Hancock

I’ve been studying the Hancock Amendment to Missouri’s Constitution for some time, and have concluded that the people of this fine state were sold a bill of goods when this Amendment was passed on November 4, 1980. Truth is, I don’t remember how I voted on this. I’m afraid that I may have voted for it, because it was touted by proponents as being a way to reduce waste by government.

We all want that, right? Well, yes and no. What we don’t want is to end up in fiscal dire straits because we failed to put money away for hard times, or to reduce goods and services to the extent  that college tuition becomes a burden on citizens, infrastructure is allowed to crumble, or people lose their jobs because not enough money is there to pay their salaries. And yet, that is what is happening in the great state of Missouri, thanks to a Springfield businessman, Mel Hancock, who started a referendum petition for a state constitional amendment to limit taxes in 1980. 

The Hancock Amendment was loosely based on other initiatives that were popular in the late 1970s and in 1980: California’s Proposition 13, Michigan’s Headlee Amendment (1978), and others. (Hancock later served as Missouri’s 7th District Congressman from 1989-1997, and his is still alive and kicking in Springfield.)

In 1999, we got a rebate check from Missouri, after the Amendment had reversed the taxes and returned, as required, the excess funds to citizens. I’ve been trying to remember the amount of this check. I don’t think it was substantial. It was probably embarrassingly small. Since then, not a dime. But I think the Hancock Amendment has had its effect on our government, even if I didn’t get any money back. Missouri has had budget shortfalls since 2001, and these have affected all state-funded agencies negatively. Higher education, for example, has taken a huge hit. Tuition in all state-operated colleges and universities has increased substantially, nearly doubling in a decade. Most of this was due to a change in the way higher education was funded a mostly Republican legislature, but some was a result of bad decisions (my word) by former Governor Bob Holden, a Democrat.  Holden began withholding funds from Missouri colleges and universities in 2001, when the economy was going sour and tax rolls were insufficient to fund state government.

Of course, if Missouri had been allowed to stash a surplus in funds against the day the economy went South, then we would not have had this problem. I say it is high time the Hancock Amendment was repealed. I’m working on research right now to show how much Missouri would have been able to save in surplus funds and what the impact would have been on those of us who received a meager check back in 1999. I will publish those results here, when I have done the research.

Some Taxing Concerns….

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taxWant some good news? It’s that time of year again, when the IRS settles up with us and we fill out our tax forms. For several years I have been doing my own taxes. Why? It all began after 2001, when Larry retired and our accountant passed away from cancer. Her files were purchased by another local accountant, but before we could go down to have our taxes done, another family member went down to have his taxes done, and we heard about this exchange:
Family member: “I had a 1099 G from the casino, and I asked him how it worked, in order to put my gambling expenses against the wins. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, I noticed that your folks had a few of those in the past.’ ”
And then he went along to explain the process. But I was steamed.
How dare an accountant we have never used, look through our files and then talk to anybody else about what was in there? So, needless to say, I decided to become my own accountant. And I haven’t been sorry.
Turbo Tax is the program I use; I’ve tried others, but Turbo Tax continues to be a good bargain for us. I have the real estate business, we have the farm, and we also have the personal income and retirement. And this year, Intuit has made online Quicken free for anyone, so we were able to take advantage of that, as well. It is cool, because it will log in to your bank account (you provide the details) and then will download your transactions and categorize them, and then make suggestions. You can also have other accounts, including credit card accounts and utilities, added to Quicken, and keep track of all expenses that way.
After I started doing my own taxes, then my daughter started doing hers; and I do my mother’s taxes for her. This year I noticed something interesting – so far, everyone I know is getting money back. A few of the rules have changed, and that is making a huge difference. One of my students, a married man with children, is getting $9,000 back, because of the earned income credit on his children. As a result, he is able to pay his rent, his car payments, and survive another six months or so.
My advice to anyone out there who has not yet done his or her taxes is, do it! You will probably get some money back. And you don’t have to use Turbo Tax if you want to do your own taxes. The IRS has a free web-based tax service on their site, which will allow most people to do their taxes online and file electronically.
IRS Site
And the State of Missouri has this page, which takes you to several options for doing taxes free, if you qualify under age specific and/or income guidelines:
http://dor.mo.gov/tax/personal/individual/vendors.htm#freeonline

There are other free sites. Just Google “file taxes free” and you will come up with several places. State tax returns are not usually free, but if you have a simple return you can file your federal free without restrictions. My suggestion is to Google your state to find out if they offer free online filing.
Online filing will get your refund to you quicker; if you owe taxes, you can also arrange for extensions online when you file. So, don’t put it off! This is one chore that can be done in a few keystrokes.

Happy Valentine's Day

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about-usThis morning I realized I hadn’t posted in several days, and missed my chance to talk about Friday the 13th. But here it is, Saturday and Valentine’s Day, so have a great day everyone! The graphic on the left was a free download from this site: http://www.stvalentinesday.org/valentines-day-pictures.html
Valentine’s Day is special in the Kilby household. This was the day Larry asked me to marry him, in 1977. My wedding diamond is shaped like a heart, and Valentine’s Day always seems, to us, to be a more important date than our anniversary, March 4. After 32 years, though, we don’t feel the need to buy each other elaborate gifts or plan exciting nights out. Truth is, we don’t enjoy nights out like we used to, and we don’t need to buy each other a gift to prove our love. We show it in so many other ways that are more important.
But I have enjoyed watching my students, over the years, as they celebrate holidays, and I think they enjoy February 14th as much as any holiday. Even the guys get into the act, which I find amusing. Everybody loves a day where love is celebrated.
In our family, the Cates family, we also have some notable dates around this time. My father was born on February 15, so every Valentine’s Day is a nice reminder of what would be his birthday. Tomorrow he would have been 95 years old. My nephew, Craig, was born on February 13, so on Thursday he was 32. Happy Birthday, Craig!
Today I’m still recovering from the flu, and even though I was at work the last two days, we will be staying close to home.

Bring on the anthrax – I'm prepared.

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Yesterday, after suffering with the flu and its aftermath as long as could without professional intervention, my husband drove me to the doctor. At this point, I was reduced to a blathering mess: congestion was severe, I was not getting better, and I couldn’t breathe without coughing so hard that I felt my toes nearly coming out my windpipe. And, in the hour and a half that I waiting there, first examined and then X-Rayed, then waiting for a consensus, I felt myself despairing of my state.

“Now I know,” I was thinking, “Why people give up and die.” 

But not so fast. My doctor, James H. Arkins, M.D., was there with his prescription pad and good news. 
“You don’t have pneumonia,” he said. “You have bronchitis.” Of course, he demanded to know what archaic methods of self-treatment I had been using before resorting to his care. I confessed to self-medicating with lemon tea, ginger, and cough drops, plus Mucinex and Excedrin. He told me to continue with the Mucinex, remember to use my inhaler, and be sure to drink as much water as I could. Then he gave me two prescriptions – one, an antibiotic, and another for methylprednisone – a dose pak- to stop the horrible symptoms. The bad problem with all this upper respiratory mess is, it tends to double over on itself until the symptoms are what kill you, not the underlying disorder.

So, off to Wal-Mart to get them filled. We left the scripts at the pharmacy and Larry got me home, and later went back to get them. When he walked back in the house, he had a strange look on his face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I thought you said these were antibiotics,” he said.

“They are, or at least, one of them is,” I said.

“Well, one was $4 and the other one was $170.”

You’re kidding me, I thought. But no, a look at the receipt proved it. Seven pills, one a day, and nearly $25 for each one. The medication? Levaquin, 750. It’s a powerful antibiotic that is perfect for what I have, but will also work for a few other things. A reading of the fine print showed it is considered very effective against anthrax. And me? Today I’m much better, even though this morning I had to go back to bed for four hours and I’ve been coughing up green stuff (I know, it is gross) all day.  

I’m sure Dr. Arkins didn’t know that the bill would be this bad. He doesn’t know how horrible our medical insurance has become in the last few years where I work. Our prescription drug benefit has become eroded the most, with a formulary that is practically worthless for anything other than rudimentary generics. And Wal-Mart sells those for $4 a pop, anyway.  What galls me is,  they will probably now be charging us for our medical premiums, meaning a benefit that used to be adequate will soon be ridiculously inadequate and overpriced. 

But hey, at the moment I’m fortified. Bring on the Anthrax – I’m ready.

Postscript: I found the website for the high priced drug, with a $15 coupon toward purchase. It’s too late for me now, but if anyone else is using this drug, please use the coupon. I’m including it here:Levaquin coupon link

I feel embarrassed for Pilot Chesley Sullenberger

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chesley_sullenberger_honored_cropDon’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that U.S. Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson and all aboard survived. Two of my sisters are flight attendants for Continental Airlines, and I monitor stories like this constantly. But, enough is enough, already.

Poor Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot, has been forced to endure countless media interviews, including appearances on 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, and anyone else who was able to schedule him in.  He has appeared at parades in his honor, been given medals and awards, and now will be given a Key to the City of New York. Can’t we just leave this guy alone?

I mean, he has just been through a terrific ordeal, one he hoped he would never have to go through, and the media blitz continues. He is obviously uncomfortable out there in the spotlight, too. Are we so hard up for good news that we keep grinding this story for all it’s worth? What next? Tabloid exposés? Will they discover some horrible truth and bring it to life, scandalizing him? (Trust me, most of us have stuff we would rather not have out there for the public to know.)

I say let him alone, give him a break, move on. It’s starting to make me as uncomfortable as I’m sure it is him. He looks like he’s had enough. 

Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chesley_Sullenberger_honored_crop.jpg

Surviving the flu, and I'm an idiot

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I had several good chances to get a flu shot, but neglected to take advantage of them. As recently as two weeks ago, I could have had a flu shot. It’s too late now. And I’m an idiot. 

On Thursday I woke up with a scratchy throat and a general feeling of malaise. You know what malaise is – it’s that general feeling that you would prefer to curl up into a ball in the corner of the bedroom than go outside. But I decided I’d better go about my day, instead — so I did. That afternoon I had an appointment to have some minor eye surgery done, so I did that instead of going to the doctor to get evaluated. By the time I got home, I had developed chest congestion, a sore throat, and a fever of 100.5 degrees, and a feeling of even worse malaise. I went to bed with some Mucinex and a couple of Excedrin, and got up Friday morning feeling even worse, but went to Missouri Southern to teach.

I came home Friday and did not go to the doctor. Here’s my excuse: “There’s not a thing they can do for me other than what I’m doing for me, so why do I want to sit in a waiting room and pay $20 to hear this?”  So I spent Friday – the rest of Friday – in bed with more Mucinex, more Excedrin, and frequent gargling sessions with salt water to ease the feeling that someone had dipped my throat and chest in hot melted wax.  Oh, and yes, I had a fever of 101. 

Saturday I woke up feeling the same, but the fever was gone. I spent most of the day in bed, and was able to eat only Malt-O-Meal, tomato soup, and one cinnamon and brown sugar Pop Tart, with loads of tea and diet Sprite.  I continued to pop the Mucinex and the Excedrin, but then decided that the Excedrin was probably a bad idea, so I dropped the Excedrin by 6 p.m. In response, I developed a pounding headache. 

Sunday – today. I’m well enough to write about this, so I must be going to live. What an idiot I am for not getting the flu shot! This is a terrible disease, people. Nobody wants this. Larry, my spouse, had a shot, and he is not sick, and I’m grateful for that. But this is not something to wish on one’s worst enemy. I’m very fortunate that I’m getting better and not any worse. I still have extreme congestion in the chest area, but it is better and I’m not coughing up stuff anymore like I was. For example, on Friday and Saturday, the cough produced yellow and green stuff. Today, what little I cough up is clear. I still have a general feeling of not being well, no interest in food, and a very sore throat and a headache that would do any hangover justice.  And I know that I have stressed out my immune system to the max, and that it will take some days or weeks to build it back up to what it was before. My whole body aches, partly from the coughing, which continues to be severe and rather spasmodic.  I can’t even remember having anything quite like this before, but a quick look at the Internet confirmed my self-diagnosis that yes, this was influenza, and not a cold. The symptoms are classic flu:

  • Sudden onset of symptoms
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat
  • Runny or Stuffy Nose
  • Body Aches
  • Lack of interest in food

Now the question is, how long will this last and when can I go back to work? I probably will be OK to go to work tomorrow. I know I SHOULD stay home, but the likelihood of my being contagious  is slim (It will be five days from onset) and my fever has been gone for two days. I’m improving, not worsening, so if I make it a short day and come back home and go immediately back to bed mode, I should be fine.  Or perhaps I’m still being an idiot.

Postscript: I went to Wal-Mart this afternoon, a seven-mile trip, to get the medicine for my eye that I dropped off Friday; I was too sick Friday to hang around for two hours while they filled it. I’m back home, and fine, but very tired. I still have congestion in the chest and a feeling of general exhaustion, but another thing I noticed is my smell and taste are messed up bad. I can’t taste anything sweet, and everything smells bad. I’ve had this before when I had viruses, but it definitely proves that what I have is a virus. Another thing is, my neck is sore. Not stiff — I would worry if it were stiff — just sore. That is another viral sign. I plan to lay around and rest and sleep the rest of the day.

Postscript #2:  OK, I came to work today. I’m doing all right. But I’m still very tired and would have loved to stay home or rest another day. My work is not strenuous, and I’m likely not contagious (cross our fingers here). But I strongly suggest that anyone who can, stay home as long as they need to with this stuff. It is murder.

Freaking out at the Eye Doc's

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brenda-k-sml_2_4Today I had a procedure done on my right eye – the eye doctor removed a conjunctival cyst that had grown big enough to obscure my vision a bit. It was not a big deal; it took about five minutes, max, and no stitches were necessary. Basically, the doctor snipped the cyst, which looked like a clear bubble, and removed it from my eyeball. Then he cauterized the blood vessels. But in the process, I had to have my eye numbed with drops, and then they put a white drape over my face, with the eye area open, and inserted a speculum in my eye to hold it open. This is where it started to all go wrong.

They didn’t tell me about the drape, or the lights in my eye. I really thought I was going to die for a moment. I thought of prisoners of war, and how they often are subjected to questioning under hot, bright lights. This was like that, probably.

I’m terribly claustrophobic, and I started to panic. The doctor and the nurse both apparently knew this was a typical reaction. They were obviously watching for it. The nurse told me to breath deep and relax, and the doctor told me it was almost over, but I thought I was going to die. 

After I came home I surfed the web, looking for evidence that this is something that happens to people. I found nothing. Maybe I am not looking in the right place. But surely I’m not the only person who freaks out during eye surgery. Now I’m wondering what will happen the next time, should I decide to have cataract surgery down the road. If anyone reading this has ever had eye surgery and freaked out, please respond. I’d like to know about your experiences and compare notes. 

As a postscript, I have to say the the procedure was successful. I can’t even see any real redness – a little, but nothing major. I can see well, and the eye doesn’t even hurt. The doctor prescribed antibiotic drops for two weeks, but I can see better right now than I’ve been able to see in years. I guess it was worth a little scare.

 

The eye, one day after surgery. Looks good!

The eye, one day after surgery. Looks good!