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Gov. Parson Calls For More Funding To Public Safety, Schools In State Of The State

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers his second State of the State address on January 15.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson delivers his second State of the State address Wednesday.

Updated at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 15 with comment from legislators 

Gov. Mike Parson highlighted public safety, behavioral health services, education and job training as priorities in Missouri’s $30 billion spending plan for the budget cycle that starts July 1. 

He spoke about these programs in his annual State of the State address Wednesday — and also touted many of what he considers successes of his first 18 months in office.

“The state of our state is strong, and by working together, we will be even better prepared for the future,” Parson said. 

Parson took partial credit for Missouri’s better-than-average unemployment rate and stronger economy in his speech. He said that several companies, including Bayer in the St. Louis area, are adding jobs to the state. He also touted the relocation of U.S. Department of Agriculture offices to Kansas City. 

Missouri senators applaud Gov. Mike Parson during the 2020 State of the State Address held January 15.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio

Gun violence

Parson addressed the issue of gun violence in St. Louis, Kansas City and elsewhere this past year. One of his guests at the speech, Bernice Jones of St. Louis, is a shooting survivor. St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, who is working with the governor on gun violence issues with the mayors of Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia, was also in the crowd.

“All of these mayors care deeply about their cities, just as I care deeply about our entire state,” Parson said.

But he didn’t say he would back any gun restrictions, and he highlighted the fact that he was a gun rights supporter during his speech. Parson had said several weeks ago, in a joint appearance with some Missouri mayors, that he would back modest gun restrictions but didn’t mention that Wednesday.

“As a lifetime member of the NRA, I have never, ever wavered in my support for the Second Amendment,” he said during the speech.

Instead of gun restrictions, Parson is proposing to devote about $1 million more to witness protection programs as well as boost funding for mental health services. He wants to put over $50 million more toward behavioral health services than was allocated this year, according to budget documents provided by his office.

In his speech, Parson also said he wanted to “strengthen our laws to target violent criminals,” but did not provide much detail about what that would entail.

“While reducing crime is our immediate goal, I strongly believe that at the end of the day, it is about better education and skills to get a quality job,” Parson said.
 

Members of the Missouri House of Representatives listen to Gov. Parson's State of the State Address held Wednesday, January 15, 2020.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio

Democrats were unimpressed with Parson’s proposals for preventing gun violence.

“Frankly, I feel like where the governor’s at with his proposals, for lack of a better word, is a lot of lip service,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, after the speech. “He’s been meeting with the mayors of the four largest cities, but we’re not seeing actual proposals that will make any serious change.”

The General Assembly’s Republican leadership was in agreement with Parson.

“Removing law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment rights is really going to be a nonstarter in the legislative makeup that there is right now,” said Senate President Pro Tem David Schatz, R-Sullivan.

Money for schools, other programs

The governor took credit for $87 million in savings in the Medicaid program, though his budget staff is anticipating a $600 million increase in Medicaid in the next budget cycle. Whatever savings that have been achieved are simply slowing the growth. 

Parson’s own budget staff expects Medicaid’s budget to go from $11.1 billion in the current fiscal year to $11.7 billion in the next one. Most of that money will be provided by the federal government, but about a third has to come from the state. 

Parson’s staff said he wants to eliminate the developmental disabilities services wait list, which will cost $22 million. The governor wants to provide about $10 million more to K-12 schools than last year, for a total of $3.6 billion overall. Parson said an additional $11.2 million would go to preschool development. He’s also set aside more money for university and college scholarships.

He is attempting to address a backlog of payments to local jails, including those in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The governor, a former sheriff, wants to pay off $22 million of the over $30 million that is owed to local law enforcement for holding people convicted of crimes.

Parson is continuing to put more money into workforce development programs. While he focused on adults last year, the programs he wants to fund this year would benefit high school students. Among other initiatives, he wants to increase online class opportunities for secondary school students, including those who are home-schooled. 

“We need to get away from not having a college degree being a stigma,” the governor said.
 

Gov. Mike Parson addresses the Missouri General Assembly during the State of the State Address held January 15, 2020.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio

Parson said in his speech that he wanted to “discuss” an increase in teacher pay, though he stopped short of committing more state dollars toward teacher wages. He said he would work with local governments, like school boards, to try to find more funding to pay teachers more.

That didn’t impress the House Democratic leadership. 

“The governor did highlight teacher pay while also saying that he didn’t really intend to pay for that,” said Quade in a press conference after the speech.

Parson touted the way he has reorganized state government. He highlighted the consolidation of prison facilities, which he said will result in savings. He talked about a pay raise he gave to state workers in the current budget cycle.

For the upcoming budget cycle, Parson would like to continue to increase state worker pay. He’s proposing a 2% pay increase for state employees, which would cost the state $26.2 million. He’s also trying to implement a “performance incentive” bonus for state workers on top of that salary bump. 

The governor proposed setting aside $100 million in a contingency fund, to deal with an economic downturn or other unforeseen expense. Republican House leaders have worried that Medicaid expansion, an outstanding lawsuit against the state’s prison system and Missouri’s minimum wage increase could blow a hole in the budget in future years.

Even though Republican lawmakers had positive comments about Parson’s budget outline, it’s not clear they will agree to fund everything he wants. The governor is basing his budget on a higher revenue projection than either the Senate or House is using, Schatz said. That means he had more money to work with when crafting a budget plan. 

Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Praire comments on remarks made during the 2020 State of the State Address held January 15.
Marta Payne | Special to St. Louis Public Radio

Election challenge

Parson faces his first statewide election for governor in November. He assumed Missouri’s top office 18 months ago when Eric Greitens resigned amid scandal. State Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat, is running against him.

In her party's official response to Parson’s speech, Galloway focused on the state’s dramatic drop in Medicaid recipients during Parson’s tenure. She accused the governor and Republican-controlled Legislature of ignoring the problem. 

Well over 100,000 people have been dropped from Missouri’s Medicaid program over the past several months, though spending in the program continues to go up. Most of the people who have lost their state-sponsored health insurance are children.

Republican lawmakers have said the drop is, in part, because of an improving economy and people choosing not to enroll their children in Medicaid any longer because of a recent change in a federal law.
 

Missouri state auditor Nicole Galloway presents an audit's findings of the city of St. Louis' local taxing districts. 11/21/19
File photo | Andrea Smith | St. Louis Public Radio

Democrats, including Galloway, have said that the state is being too aggressive about kicking people off Medicaid and that children who do qualify for the program are losing their health insurance as a result. Some families have said they didn’t know their children had been removed from Medicaid — until they had a reason to take a son or daughter to the doctor.

“You shouldn’t have to decide between putting food on the table for your family and getting the health care that you need for you or your kids. Gov. Parson, he caused this problem,” Galloway said. 

Galloway’s response video to Parson’s speech — which looked somewhat like a political campaign ad — featured Dierdre Wortham, of north St. Louis, who says she was surprised when her son Aidan was dropped from the Medicaid program. 

She did not find out Aidan had been kicked out of Medicaid until he arrived at a therapy appointment and the therapist’s office informed the family he didn’t have health insurance.

Without directly mentioning Galloway, Parson did criticize Democrats like her for advocating for Medicaid expansion, which his administration has said will cost the state $200 million if approved by the voters later this year.

“Make no mistake about it. The vague proposal they are not explaining or purposefully withholding is a massive tax increase that Missourians cannot afford,” Parson said of Medicaid expansion. 

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jaclyn Driscoll contributed to this report. 

Follow Julie O'Donoghue on Twitter: @jsodonoghue

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Follow Julie O'Donoghue on Twitter: @jsodonoghue

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

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