“My call to legislators this session is to propose initiatives aimed at building stronger communities, improving education and workforce development, revitalizing our infrastructure, and making government more accountable.”
— Gov. Mike Parson
By Stan Schwartz
JEFFERSON CITY—Gov. Mike Parson said the state of Missouri is strong and by working together, we will be ready for an even better future.
Parson was speaking during his State of the State address before the stage legislature Jan. 15.
He touted the 42,000 Missourian who are signed up for on-the-job training through Missouri’s One-Start Program.
“We have reached second in the nation for apprenticeships,” he said, adding that, “we fully intend to keep that momentum going.”
He also mentioned another workforce program—Aspire MO—that helps incarcerated women develop business plans and prepare for successful reentry in the workforce.
Two of the graduates of the 20-week program were on hand to be recognized at the state capital during the State of the State address.
He said the tax cuts at the state and federal level are having a positive impact within Missouri. The state ranks 7th for small business wage growth. Unemployment is 3.1 percent.
“We are on the right track,” he said.
It is the private sector businesses that are driving the growth, he noted, not the government. Bunge, a Fortune 250 agribusiness company, announced the move of its headquarters from New York City to St. Louis, Bayer will add 500 new jobs to the region and Pfizer invested more than $230 million here. Kansas City will also see some growth through two divisions of the USDA.
But more than the big cities will see growth, Parson added. Briggs and Stratton is adding 130 new jobs in Poplar Bluff, Mo., Dollar Tree is investing $130 million for a new distribution center in Warrensburg, and NuCor Steel is close to production at its new $250 million steel mill in Sedalia, Mo. Also, Aurora Organic Dairy just recently opened a new processing plant in Columbia, Mo., not to mention Purina’s $115 million investment to expand its Bloomfield, Mo., operation. Saving the best for last, Parson touted General Motors’ announcement of a $1.5 billion investment in its Wentzville plant to build trucks.
The governor also highlighted federal grants that are being used to improve the state’s infrastructure:
“I am proud of MoDOT’s hard work to leverage every tax dollar to the fullest to make our transportation system safer for all Missourians.”
He noted Missouri’s award of an $81.2 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant from the U.S. Transportation Department.
That grant will be used to replace the I-70 Missouri River Bridge at Rocheport and to build I-70 climbing lanes at Mineola Hill in Montgomery County. It also triggered $301 million in bonding revenue to repair or replace 215 bridges across the state.
Parson also called for key investments in Missouri’s infrastructure, including $4 million in disaster recovery funds and another $50 million for the transportation cost-share program.
The Buck O’Neil Bridge project in Kansas City was given the green light, as well.
He also noted reorganization to improve state government, including a state prison consolidation that would save the state $22 million annually.
With improved efficiencies, he said, they were able to provide a pay raise to state employees.
The state recently received a $33.5 million pre-school development grant for early learning.
“We have the opportunity to strengthen our early childhood offerings and better prepare Missouri children for success, which is crucial to the development of our strong workforce,” Parson said.
Students at the high school level will also be given some attention, he added, because currently, only about 30 percent of the state’s population has a four-year college degree.
“We need to move away from the stigma that not having a college degree is a failure,” Parson said. “In fact, there are many other job training and education opportunities,” he added.
The state is currently seeking money to certify 12,000 high school students as work-ready through the Work Keys Program.
“It will put them on a path to greater opportunities,” he said.
For college-bound students, he noted, the state has secured $5.3 million to secure Bright Flight and A+ scholarship funding.
Parson turned from education to the recent flooding in the state. Historically, he noted, it was some of the worst the people of Missouri have ever experienced. The state, he added, proposed setting aside $4 million for disaster recovery.
As for health care, Parson said the single largest savings the state has been able to achieve is in the Medicaid system. More than one-third of the state budget $10 billion goes to health care. He said Todd Richardson helped put back in place accountability and enforcement parameters, which has saved the state $84 million.
He didn’t think expanding the system would be good. Expansion, he noted, would hurt other areas, such as education, workforce development and improving the state’s aging infrastructure.
He wants tort reform discussed in the legislature, and license reciprocity given to the spouses of the men and women serving in the armed forces.
His last proposal in his speech looked at establishing a cash-operating expense fund to give the state the flexibility and stronger finances. He wants $100 million to start the fund this year and to insure the saving remain stable he wants to direct wayfair collections into the fund to keep it solvent. The remaining portion would be used to pay off debt.
The Democrats responded to Parson’s speech, angered not at what he said but what he didn’t say.
“This was a disappointing and, frankly, troubling speech. More than 100,000 kids have had their health care taken away by Parson’s administration, and today, he continued to ignore this crisis,” said Democratic Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors. “Meanwhile, his party continues to stand in the way of common sense changes to prevent gun violence, address the opioid epidemic, and make college more affordable. The biggest issues facing Missouri were essentially ignored by Parson today, and that is incredibly unfortunate for middle class families,” she added.
Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said, “Under Parson and his Republican-led Legislature, Missouri is No. 1 in the nation for kicking children off Medicaid. That is a dangerous and embarrassing statistic. In his State of the State address today, the governor failed to address this issue, which shows a lack of leadership on the important issue of health care.”
On the other hand, MU System President Mun Choi said he was grateful for the governor’s support of higher education.
“The governor has shown through his words and actions that he is a fierce proponent of higher education and recognizes that Missouri’s future depends on having an educated, prepared workforce,” Choi said. “His support of projects like the NextGen Precision Health Institute demonstrates his understanding of the role higher education institutions can play in forging research collaborations, boosting the economic development of the state and improving the greater health of all Missourians.”
He added that, “Our NextGen Precision Health Initiative will especially benefit those Missourians in every corner of the state, providing much needed healthcare in rural Missouri. We are deeply appreciative for the confidence Parson has in our ability to meet the workforce, healthcare and educational needs of the state.”