Governor Jay Nixon is calling for cuts to higher education, fewer state jobs, and holding public school funding at its current level in his proposed state budget for next year. But he kept his State of the State Address upbeat while acknowledging that Missouri is still in a financial hole. St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin reports.
GRIFFIN: Nixon chose not to crunch numbers during his address. He spent part of it highlighting achievements during the past year, including autism insurance coverage and expanding broadband Internet access. And he made special mention of this week’s agreement to provide tax incentives for Ford’s auto plant near Kansas City:
NIXON: “Ford’s commitment will help keep thousands of hard-working Missourians on the job at Claycomo, and at automotive suppliers in Hannibal, Nixa, Perryville, Joplin, Mexico, and every corner of our state...the best darn workers in America are right here in the Show-me State…we’ve got some of ‘em here tonight, let’s give ‘em a hand!”
GRIFFIN: Lawmakers heartily approved when the governor called for making all high school students eligible for the state’s A-Plus scholarship program, and when he pledged to balance the budget without raising taxes. But the GOP majority sat on their hands when he pushed for the return of campaign contribution limits:
NIXON: “People in Missouri need to know that their elected representatives are working in the public interest and not for personal gain…right now, anyone can write a check for any amount of money and tip the balance of an election…that’s corrosive to our democracy.”
GRIFFIN: And he only touched briefly on his proposal to eliminate nearly half of the state’s tax credit programs, a move opposed by the Republican Speaker of the House. Nixon spent more time on a new jobs program he unveiled during his speech, called Compete Missouri:
NIXON: “We’ll consolidate our six current business incentives and roll them into one…to qualify for these incentives, companies will have to provide good-paying jobs and give their employees access to health care…for the first time we’ll give an extra month to established Missouri companies.”
GRIFFIN: Nixon says Compete Missouri will provide incentives to both small business owners and large corporations. He avoided talking in-depth about his proposed state budget for next year, leaving that task to his Budget Director, Linda Luebbering. She told reporters before the address that the governor’s 23-point-2 billion-dollar spending plan contains about 300 million in new cuts. 270 million dollars being withheld from the current year’s budget will become permanent cuts as well, and more than 860 state jobs will be eliminated:
LUEBBERING: “All of those actions, plus the actions that the governor is proposing tonight, have and will continue to insure that our budget stays in balance.”
GRIFFIN: The cuts include nearly 64 million from universities and community colleges, which may result in tuition hikes for students. And the governor wants K-through-12 schools to use 112 million dollars received from the federal government in their budgets next year, which would allow the state to cut their funding by the same dollar amount. Lt. Governor Peter Kinder sharply criticized Nixon’s handling of K-through-12 schools during the Republican Response:
KINDER: “Sadly, over the past several months, Governor Nixon has voluntarily withheld millions of dollars from Missouri schools…I say we cannot play political games with school funding, and the governor should be ashamed of himself.”
GRIFFIN: Kinder also criticized the governor’s record on job creation, and accused him of not setting a good example while eliminating state jobs:
KINDER: “Governor Nixon has fired a number of long-time public servants, yet in his own office, the governor has the highest-paid personal staff in state history…I was the only statewide elected official to offer up a voluntary cut to my own office budget.”
GRIFFIN: Kinder is expected to run against Nixon during next year’s governor’s race. In the meantime, Nixon will try to convince lawmakers to pass his budget proposals instead of any GOP alternatives. The General Assembly has until May 6th to pass next year’s state budget.