JEFFERSON CITY - During his State of the State Address, Gov. Jay Nixon presented one of the broadest agendas in recent years by a governor. His package, presented in a nearly hour-long speech to a joint session of the legislature Monday night, Jan. 28, included issues supported by Republicans as well as a few issues strongly opposed by GOP lawmakers.
Nixon's proposals include:
- Education : Nixon's proposed budget includes a $150 million increase in funding to higher education. Nixon said the higher funding means higher accountability."Nothing will have a greater impact on our children's future than the commitment we make now to their education." House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he hopes the Governor is serious about education reform.
- Longer school year: Nixon proposed adding six more days to the school year. "Adding six more days to the next school year will give teachers more time to work with their students, and give kids more time to learn." Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood said that it may be more ideal to make the school days longer, instead of adding more days. He said he worried about the affects it could have on tourism in Missouri.
- Expanding pre-schools: Nixon said he would like to increase pre-school funding by $17 million, which would allow for more money to be put into programs like Early Head Start. "Early childhood education is a smart investment, with a big return," Nixon said. "We want every child, in every Missouri community - no matter their family's circumstances - to get the best possible start.
- Streamlining environmental regulations: Nixon addressed what has been a long-time Republican complaint about cumbersome and duplicate regulatory processes by the state's Natural Resources Department. "We need to simplify our convoluted environmental permitting process," Nixon told lawmakers. "Currently, business owners have to go to as many as six commissions at the Department of Natural Resources to get permits. And that's before they turn the first shovel of dirt."
- Expand Medicaid: Nixon cited a number of buisness associations that had endorsed his plan to increase the eligiblity for the health-care program to 138 percent of federal poverity. To demonstrate his point, he had the business leaders stand up in the House visitor's gallery. "For these busines leaders this is not a political decision. It's an economic one," Nixon said of the approximately $1 billion per year the state would get in additional federal Medicaid funds. Republican legislators, however, said they do not believe the Medicaid expansion will pass. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he is more interested in Medicaid transformation than expansion. While not completely ruling out some sort of Medicaid expansion, Republican legislative leaders have questioned whether the federal government would hold to the current plan to limit the state's match to ten percent. To GOP critics, Nixon responded "Let me address that directly: I support including a provision that rolls back the Medicaid expansion if Washington doesn't honor its financial commitment."
- Expanding Mental Health Programs: Citing the Connecticut school shootings, Nixon said his budget will include $10 million to expand mental health programs. The money will be used to provide more services and train law enforcement in mental health crisis-intervention. Jones agreed that he would like to see an expansion in mental health programs as a priority in the House this session. Nixon made no reference to various proposals to restrict firearms or enhance school security.
- Expand domestic violence centers: Included in Nixon's proposed budget is a 29 percent increase in funds to provide more room at domestic violence shelters in the state. "No child - no mother - who has been the victim of domestic violence should ever be turned away and left to fend for themselves during these moments of crisis," Nixon said.
- Bond issue: Nixon endorsed the legislative leadership's proposal for a large bond issue to pay for infastructure improvements. Nixon said that funding could go towards building science technology buildings on college campuses, replace some Fulton State Hospital facilities, and to improve state parks to increase tourism. Nixon, however, added a requirement for the legislative proposal -- that lawmakers also pass reductions in tax credits to developers and special interests to free up funds to pay off the bonds. "We can only move forward with a bond issuance if we have a way to pay for it," Nixon said. Jones said this was an area of common ground. however, he said he did not think the bond issue would be coupled with cuts in tax credits reform. "I think you run into a lot of problems in this legislature when you start tying things together," Jones said. "I'd rather not do business that way." Nixon did not specify a specific amount for his proposal. The House speaker has sponsored a $950 bond issue proposal although he has indicated the details still need to be worked out. Any bond issue would require statewide voter approval after clearing the legislature.
- Campaign finance restrictions: Nixon renewed his call for lawmakers to impose limits on campaign contributions, but added a threat: "If the legislature does not send a campaign contribution limit bill to my desk, I will do everything in my power to get it on the ballot and make sure it passes. He said unlimited campaign contributions to candidates seeking public office is the "single most destructive force to our system." He said unlimited campaign contributions erodes the public's trust. But Republicans replied that Nixon was one of the biggest offenders. "There's no one in this state, frankly, that's taken more $20,000 check $50,000 checks $100,000 checks, $200,000 checks than the governor, said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. "So I think we should have a discussion about campaign finance reform but it's going to have to be realistic and it's going to have to acknowledge some of the realities of life." During his last campaign, Nixon raised $8 million.
Nixon's State of the State address did not offer proposals for two major issues facing the state - a highway system that the State Transportation Department has warned it does not have sufficient funds to maintain and the failure of the school districts in the state's two largest cities from maintaining full accreditation.