Gov. Jay Nixon once again signaled that he might strike down school transfer legislation that passed out of the General Assembly last week.
After he helped break ground on an expansion to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Nixon told reporters that he would move the transfer bill to the “very top of the list to review.” The multifaceted bill makes a number of changes to the law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to go to different schools. (Click here to read a detailed story on what the bill does.)
The Democratic governor once again zeroed in on a provision that could allow students in unaccredited districts to transfer to private, nonsectarian schools. That, he said, amounts to a voucher program, which the governor has opposed for years.
“It violates the constitution and it something we haven’t done in Missouri since 1821,” Nixon said. “And it’s unnecessary for that particular solution.”
Nixon also said he had concerns about a provision that would no longer require unaccredited districts to pay transportation costs for transfer students. But he added that he’d give the bill a “good look” and make a quick decision.
“It’s a pressing public policy issue that I need to get to,” Nixon said.
Some of the bill’s supporters – including Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City – have been critical of Nixon for not working more closely with lawmakers on the issue. Chappelle-Nadal told reporters last week that for Nixon “to come about at the eleventh hour is not only a disgrace, but it also shows the lack of his leadership.”
When asked about that criticism – which has been percolating for years among legislators of both parties – Nixon said: “I’m there every day. I work a lot.”
“We got a lot done, especially on mental health this year,” said Nixon, specifically pointing to a proposal that will help construction a new mental health-care facility in Fulton. “But when they veer off course the way they did on the last day of the session and pass $490 million of tax cuts that aren’t paid for and don’t put a balanced budget on my desk, they can add too.”
Nixon was referring to tax breaks passed on the last day of session. They ranged from incentives for data centers to tax exemptions for restaurants and farmers’ markets.
But after criticizing those bills, Nixon said he wasn’t being inconsistent for championing a much bigger incentive package to lure Boeing’s 777X to Missouri.
That package would have provided Boeing with around $1.7 billion in tax incentives if it built its assembly plant in Missouri. Some legislative critics contended the price tag was well over $2 billion, and amounted to corporate welfare.
When asked whether his criticism of the tax incentives chafed with his advocacy for the Boeing package, Nixon said it was “an entirely separate” situation.
“If [Boeing] made investments and created jobs, then we allowed them to keep a portion of the taxes that were earned after the construction project was over and after folks were working,” Nixon said. “That’s why we worked specifically within our programs in the Boeing deal that required job creation.”
“These things that have been passed don’t do that,” he added. “They just throw money at whomever at who was walking down the hall with a good lobbyist. And that is not the way to run the fiscal system of a state.”
Nixon added he was “going to focus over the next couple of weeks” to make sure “the cuts that we have to make to balance the budget and maintain our fiscal discipline are ones that reflect our values.”
Officials celebrate plant science center expansion
Meanwhile, Nixon joined a number of prominent officials – including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth – to break ground on an expansion to the Danforth Plant Science Center.
The $45 million project will go toward constructing a 79,000-facility on the organization’s Creve Coeur campus. It will give the center room for more high-tech equipment and an additional 100 researchers.
Danforth Center President James Carrington said the expansion would provide space to train new scientists. He also said the facility – which will be completed by late next year – would attract or help create new businesses involved in the plant sciences.
“It’s about making a better impact, making a strong impact and faster,” Carrington said. “With new crops, new bioenergy, new companies – both created and attracted – and training the next generation of scientists, that’s what we think we can do better with a more robust institution.”