STATE OF THE STATE
In his fourth State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Mike Parson emphasized the importance of planning for the future as he unveiled a $51.6 billion budget plan.
His proposed budget would provide increases in infrastructure spending and investments in education and workforce development built around a theme of “Not done yet.”
Parson called on Democrats as well as his own party to make his goals happen. Democrats applauded his main priorities and voiced a willingness to work with him on key proposals.
A major highlight of the budget recommendations included expanding the capacity of Interstate 70. The proposed budget allocates $859 million for lane expansion in high traffic areas in Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia.
Chief of Staff Aaron Willard said investments in I-70 will help not only Missouri but the nation due to the state’s location.
“If you look at the map, Missouri is at the nexus of the U.S. supply chain … this is a chance for us to lead nationally,” Willard said.
In his speech Parson said the proposed expansion is a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the time is now.”
The proposed funding would bring targeted areas on the highway from two lanes to three lanes, and aims to tackle congestion, traffic accidents and delays for commuters. Director of Transportation Patrick McKenna said projects such as the climbing lane in Ridgeport will all help make I-70 more dependable.
“All of these are going to come together to make a much more reliable I-70,” McKenna said.
Other proposed infrastructure investments include railroad crossing safety improvements and broadband expansion. The budget proposal looks to invest almost $250 million into broadband development.
Parson recommended large investments into Elementary and Secondary Education, such as child care subsidies and Career Ladder program funding. The proposed Career Ladder money would aid in the continuation of the Teacher Baseline Salary Grant Program that the legislature passed last year.
Parson noted in his speech that almost 356 school districts participated in the program. The proposed $32 million will continue that program.
During the speech, Parson directed his attention toward Emily Fluckey, a second-year teacher who received a nearly $7,000 pay increase because of the program. He said the program enabled her to live independently, get married and begin pursuing her master’s degree.
The administration has already invested nearly $1 million to improve Missouri’s child care network. During the upcoming legislative session, they will propose three child care tax credit programs to improve facilities, support educators and allow child care workers to earn pay increases, he said.
“Together, these actions will help more child care providers to start their businesses, stay in business and expand their businesses,” Parson said.
Continuing efforts to support youth, Parson proposed $3.5 million to increase the number of youth behavioral health liaisons across the state. He said doing so was imperative to keeping kids “in school and out of the system.”
Parson also said the government could do more for the Children’s Division, which he said is critical to the mental health and safety of Missouri’s most vulnerable children.
Parson announced the request of $3.5 million to support the expansion of the state’s youth behavioral health liaison program, which would add 27 additional liaisons across the state. The request is a part of the state’s initiative to prioritize the mental health of students by supporting the liaison program.
Special guest and Missouri Youth Behavioral Liaison Phallin Thornton said the support will not only allow for expansion but also expand the amount of resources available for children and families.
The liaison program helps bridge the gap between law enforcement, juvenile offices, the Children’s Division and schools to behavioral health services to help identify children, youth and families who are needing support.
“We are so grateful for Parson recognizing the need for support for our state’s children and youth. We need so many more liaisons so for him to recognize that is absolutely phenomenal,” Thornton said.
While noting that significant strides have been made toward retention of state employees, Parson pushed for more, requesting they be granted an immediate 8.7% cost of living increase.
“Supporting our state workers means supporting the people in Missouri, and we are not done yet,” he said.
The administration is also pushing to invest $275 million in capital improvement on college campuses. Parson noted he is seeking a 7% increase in funding to community college and four-year institutions that if approved will be the largest increase in more than 25 years.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said her caucus agreed with many of Parson’s priorities and hopes to work with him and House Republicans to capitalize on the state’s budget surplus.
She said she was thrilled to hear Parson discuss issues such as improving infrastructure, increasing funding for child care and combating maternal mortality, issues that Democrats have been championing for decades. She added that she was glad the governor agrees that increasing pay for state workers is a good starting point but not a complete solution for recruiting and retaining employees.
Quade said she hoped her Republican colleagues would align with Parson’s priorities instead of pursuing culture war talking points.
“I’m hopeful that the governor is ready to focus on the things that unify rather than divide: a long overdue investment in our state’s workforce, infrastructure and people,” Quade said. “On those things, Democrats are ready to get to work.”
All four members of Boone County’s Democratic House delegation agreed with Quade that Parson’s address signaled his intention to invest in Missourians and matched many Democratic priorities.
“These investments are going to help our constituents quite a bit, and I think even though we don’t agree with the governor on a lot of policy, this was a pretty good deal,” Rep. Adrian Plank, D-Columbia, said. “It’s rare for me to show so much support for a Republican, but at this point, I think it’s warranted.”