Missouri Governor Mike Parson (R), the state’s top executive officer for the past seven months, gave his first State of the State address Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 16. State Senators and Representatives of the historic 100th General Assembly packed the House chamber and received the Governor’s speech with overall enthusiasm and intermittent applause.
Parson, the 57th Missouri governor, said he’s been traveling throughout the state, listening to citizens’ needs and charting a course for Missouri. He said he plans to take bold steps to tackle big issues, laying a solid foundation for our state’s future. Some of his proposals cannot be delayed, he said.
The proposed state budget unveiled by Parson increases General Revenue spending to $10.1 billion, approximately $490 million increase over the current budget.
However, there is continued concern about the current GR budget situation that was $449 million behind last year’s numbers as of Jan. 15.
Parson said the state’s workforce development for high-demand jobs and critical infrastructure improvements will be among his top priorities for the legislature to address this year.
His budget, he said, includes some $75 million for innovative workforce development programs with funding boosts for programs offered at community colleges, technical schools, colleges and universities. Program improvements for employer-and industry-led high school and college programs are on the drawing board, Parson said, noting that all Missourians would prosper from strengthening workforce development.
Higher education’s budget would remain flat but include $20 million for much-needed maintenance projects. The budget for elementary and secondary schools would see an increase of $61 million and $10 million more for school transportation. K-12 spending is projected to go from $3.49 billion to $3.55 billion.
He also mentioned an increase in spending of $351 million in state and federal funds for repair or replacement of 250 bridges, along with $50 million for cost sharing on projects with cities and counties. Project bonds would be paid back using GR of about $30 million annually for 15 years.
Turning his attention to the Department of Corrections, he pointed out the importance of re-entry programs and alternative sentencing for the state to offer criminals a second chance. Parson said he is not interested in building more prisons. In fact, he is proposing a consolidation of two prisons in Cameron in northwest Missouri.
His budget supports a pay raise for correctional officers and state employees.
Parson mentioned reorganizing and streamlining the departments of Economic Development and Higher Education for the sake of more efficient government.
Other priorities include a $5 million increase in the state budget to help expand high-speed broadband internet access, especially in rural areas of Missouri. He noted there are about 10 school districts that lack high-speed broadband access. The $5 million is in addition to $255 million in federal funds for broadband expansion in the state.
He mentioned proposed emphasis on Missouri river ports to help deliver Missouri products globally.
Parson cited Missouri’s remarkable and dedicated state workforce, but said the state in recent years has experienced an expanding, less efficient bureaucracy. Parson said he would be restructuring state government, demanding greater efficiency and increased accountability, along with improved customer service for all Missourians.
The Governor said his budget is a “responsible” budget, and for the first time in more than a decade it does not forecast spending every tax dollar. It includes 430 government positions eliminated, he said.
Other topics briefly mentioned by the Governor were better access to rural healthcare, both preventative and emergency care; mental health treatment challenges, telemedicine, fighting the opioid crisis, caring for persons with autism, and safeguarding the integrity of the Missouri Medicaid program to ensure that every tax dollar is accounted for.
Governor Parson told legislators it’s time to have an honest conversation on these topics. He said he is willing to make tough decisions to put our state in a better position.
He closed with, “If it is to be, it is up to us.”