Greitens highlights jobs, teases tax reform plan in annual address

Gov. Eric Greitens touted accomplishments from his first year in Jefferson City and outlined priorities for his second year in office on Wednesday night, delivering a State of the State address that emphasized job creation, called for continued deregulation and hinted at a plan for “the boldest state tax reform in America.”

Speaking to a joint session of the Missouri Legislature in Jefferson City, the second-year Republican governor again broke with Missouri tradition by not unveiling his budget. That decision drew criticism in the Democratic response that followed his address.

Also like his first year in office, Greitens portrayed himself as an outsider sent to Jefferson City to represent the interests not of “the connected or the comfortable,” but of people who have been “counted out or forgotten.”

Job growth

Early on, the governor turned to jobs, a topic that permeated the 30-minute speech. He highlighted the state’s 3.4 percent unemployment rate, which he said was the lowest level in 17 years, as well as the growth of Missouri’s manufacturing sector and the improvement of its ranking as a place to do business.

“We promised to fight for your jobs, and we are,” Greitens said. “The most important thing that we can do for Missouri families is to make it easier for those without jobs to find them and make sure that those who have jobs keep them.”

Regulatory rollbacks

Greitens asserted that eliminating regulations was key to the continued creation of jobs in the state. “For Missouri to prosper,” he said, “we need to get government off our backs.”

When he came into office, the state had close to 112,000 regulatory requirements on the books, Greitens said. But he said his administration is slashing some 33,000 of those.

“They had been building up for too long, like plaque in the arteries of Missouri’s economy,” Greitens said, adding that regulations were slowing down businesses and causing the government to become bloated.

Tax reform

In one passage of his speech that has considerable potential to make waves during the legislative session, Greitens called for tax reform, saying he has a plan to ease the burden on working families and make it easier for businesses to create jobs in Missouri.

He provided no details of that plan, but he said his administration will “lay out a detailed, thoughtful and thorough plan to cut taxes on the hardest-working families in our state” by early next week.

His push for tax reform at the state level follows the GOP’s passage of a federal tax overhaul, and it comes as some Republican lawmakers in Missouri open the legislative session with an eye on state tax reform.

In an emailed statement, Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, welcomed the governor’s idea. “Missouri’s economic trajectory has risen since Gov. Eric Greitens took office last year. The General Assembly can help sustain this success by following last year’s productive legislative session with a continued effort toward meaningful state tax reform,” Mehan said.

However, opponents of tax cuts in the state point to neighboring Kansas, which has struggled financially since enacting major tax cuts earlier this decade — and has ultimately undone most of them — as a cautionary tale.

Reduced government

Greitens put state government in the crosshairs, applauding his administration’s efforts to shrink agencies like the Department of Natural Resources. He highlighted other cost-cutting efforts, like digitization of the state’s annual budget, a move he said would save $3,601.50 in printing costs.

He called for state workforce laws to be reformed so that poor performers can be fired, and he lauded his administration’s efforts to eliminate redundant state boards.

“To serve citizens well,” he said, “government needs to do fewer things and do them better.”

Ethics reform

Voicing a refrain that’s been heard in the halls of the Capitol building for years but has not led to substantive changes in state law, Greitens called for ethics reform.

“We need to slam shut the revolving door between the legislature and lobbyists,” he said, “and we need to pass term limits for every statewide office holder.”

Democratic response

Delivering the official Democratic response to Greitens’ address, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City seized on the governor’s call for ethics reform.

“During his first year in office,” she said, “Gov. Greitens’ administration has been stained by ethical failings, disdain for the law and a complete lack of transparency.”

She criticized Greitens for his administration’s use of a disappearing messaging app, his office’s responses to records requests and his campaign’s record on campaign finance.

To that end, Beatty said, Democrats have filed a package of legislation “to improve accountability and transparency in state government.”

Democrats also will push to fund the state’s education system and address the opioid epidemic through a legislative package, she said. She characterized the drug problem as not only devastating to families but also “disastrous for businesses.”

Beatty raised issue with Greitens’ decision not to release his budget, which before last year was a longstanding tradition in conjunction with the governor’s annual address.

“It is unfortunate that he didn’t see fit to share his priorities with you tonight,” she said. “But House Democrats will scrutinize every line over the governor’s budget to ensure that every dollar is spent appropriately and that the interests of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens are protected.”

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