Nixon strikes bipartisan tone in State of State, GOP seeks specifics

Gov. Jay Nixon held a press conference Sept. 4 to emphasize his priorities ahead of the Missouri Legislature's Sept. 10 veto session. | Phil Joens/Missouri Business Alert
Gov. Jay Nixon, shown here in September, appealed to the Missouri Legislature’s Republican supermajority Wednesday.| Phil Joens/Missouri Business Alert

Gov. Jay Nixon preached a bipartisan message during his seventh State of the State address Wednesday night, calling for cooperation between parties so lawmakers can address issues like crumbling roads, Medicaid and tension between law enforcement and the public.

Afterward, leaders from the State Legislature’s Republican supermajority noted that the Democratic governor’s speech contained very little in the way of specific proposals. Nixon laid out several issues he’d like the General Assembly to consider, but the speech was largely devoid of specifics, GOP leadership said.

As expected, issues surrounding the unrest in Ferguson were a prominent topic in Nixon’s address. The governor talked about the importance of improving relationships between law enforcement and communities. Both Democrats and Republicans rose to their feet and gave Nixon a standing ovation when he said, “We are proud of our law enforcement.”

Nixon then quickly turned to how to solve the problem of unequal opportunities for minorities or impoverished people that creates much of the tension between police and the public. Education, Nixon said, is key. His $8.6 billion proposed budget would include $11 million to fund pre-school and another $110 million to fund K-12 schools.

“Education is the great equalizer because when every child has a quality education, every child has an opportunity to succeed,” Nixon said. “And Education is the best economic development tool we have.”

Nixon said the largest chunk of additional funding for schools will only come if lawmakers approve three bills that he projects will raise state revenues by $178 million. The biggest of those three is legislation to expand Medicaid, which Republicans have repeatedly said will not happen this year.

“Since I stood here last year, Missouri taxpayers have sent $2 billion to Washington,” Nixon said. “Those dollars are being used right now in other states to reform and improve their Medicaid systems. States that have strengthened and improved Medicaid have had three times the growth of those that didn’t.”

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said after Nixon’s address that funding for schools shouldn’t be contingent on a Medicaid expansion bill passing.

“I think we would also like to put a substantial increase for education in the budget,” Dempsey said. “We’re not going to going to use Medicaid expansion increases that haven’t materialized or are not likely to materialize. We’re going to be looking at actual dollars.”

According to Dempsey, Republicans and Democrats simply disagree on how to increase education funding. “That’s a priority we share with the governor,” he said. “It’s just how we do it where we disagree.”

House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, took a more hard-line approach during a press briefing after the address. Diehl said he’s willing to work with Nixon, but that if the governor wants to work across the aisle he’ll have to create specific proposals first.

“If the governor wants to work with us, our door is open,” Diehl said. “Missouri voters want functional government, and I think they demand that their public leaders try to work through disagreements.”

In a response posted after the address, Diehl said Republicans intend to revisit topics including school accreditation and entitlements.

“Our goal is to make sure welfare is working in its proper role as a safety net for those who truly need help,” Diehl said. “By removing those who are capable of earning a living wage on their own, by insuring only our most vulnerable citizens are part of the program, we can reinvest the dollars we save to further reform the system so that it helps those who are trying to help themselves.”

One of the evening’s more celebratory moments came when Nixon addressed the state’s resurgent auto industry, recalling “strategic legislation” in 2010 that helped keep automakers’ operations in the state. He trumpeted the work of Ford at its Kansas City Assembly Plant and GM at its facility in Wentzville, drawing rapturous applause from a group of autoworkers in the gallery.

“Because of the work of the people sitting here just a few short years ago, and the work we did together, these men and women have the dignity of a good, family supporting job,” Nixon said.


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