Democratic response to the State of the State Address

Tuesday, January 15, 2008 | 6:22 p.m. CST; updated 8:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This is the prepared text of Democrat Attorney General Jay Nixon's response to Republican Gov. Matt Blunt's State of the State speech Tuesday. It was released prior to Blunt's speech.

JEFFERSON CITY—Good evening. I'm Jay Nixon, your Attorney General. Tonight I'd like to have a serious conversation about the future or our state.

We are a great state with great potential. But like you, I am concerned that we are not moving in the right direction. It is frustrating to see Missouri—with all our promise—falling further and further behind our neighbors. And we are all left wondering why.

Why are Missourians losing their health insurance at three times the national rate? Why do 127,000 children have no health insurance at all?

Why is it that when our college football team was ranked number one in the nation, our state ranked dead last in funding for our colleges and universities?

And at a time when our economy is in peril, why aren't we keeping pace with our neighboring states on job creation and economic development?

These questions are disturbing when we hear the Republicans talk about having extra money. Well that shouldn't surprise you, because that money came directly from your pockets. They'll have you believe it's because of good management—but we know better. Make no mistake. The money sitting in the state's bank account isn't there because of sound fiscal policy; it's there because this governor failed to fund the priorities that would move Missouri forward.

So tonight, I'd like to talk about the fundamental choice we face: Are we going to keep pursuing the same old policies that have held our state back? Or are we are going to change direction and get the state moving forward again?

Are we going to confront these problems and begin to move our state forward?

Democrats believe we must change direction. But let's be clear, we're not talking about raising taxes. We're talking about investing your tax dollars in people.

That's why we are offering a series of fresh ideas to move Missouri forward again—and no challenge we face requires more urgent action than our broken health care system.

In 2005, Gov. Blunt and the Republican legislature slashed health care coverage and benefits from hundreds of thousands of Missourians. And because of those cuts, we now have more than 750,000 Missourians without health insurance, including more than 127,000 of our children.

Those numbers are shocking and inexcusable—no child should be without health care. But this health care crisis can't be fully understood with numbers alone—it's about people. Nearly every day, someone comes up to me and tells me their personal health care story—and I'd like to share one of those stories with you tonight.

A few weeks ago, I met a fellow named Richard, lives in the Ozarks. He worked 20 years for a trucking company, raising three kids. In 1997, he was diagnosed with MS—never saw it coming. It left him in a wheelchair and turned his life upside down. He lost his job. But Richard was determined to go to rehab, to get back to work, and continue to support his family. Then the governor's health care cuts came down and he lost access to physical therapy and could no longer afford the medical equipment he needs. He remains in his wheelchair today, out of work. Richard is a regular, hard-working Missourian—but when life took a devastating turn—his state government left him out in the cold.

It's difficult to hear stories like Richard's, but that's reality.

As a result of the governor's health care cuts, Missouri has turned down more than $1 billion dollars of federal health care money. That's your money, your tax dollars you are already sending to Washington. At a time when we need those health care dollars right here in Missouri, the governor won't admit his mistake, and is instead sending it to states like California and New York to insure their people.

We Democrats are putting forward a plan to restore these devastating health care cuts to every single Missourian who had their coverage or benefits slashed. This is our top priority.

You will hear a lot of talk from the governor about his health care scheme, but make no mistake: it does nothing to help the elderly or Missourians with disabilities. And it does nothing to cover the 127,000 children without health insurance. Its objective is to take money from regular Missourians who need health care and put it in the pockets of the HMOs and insurance companies.

Simply put, the governor's plan does nothing to fix the damage that he and his allies in the legislature caused to our state's health care system.

It's time for the Republican leadership of this state to recognize the disastrous impact of their health care cuts and join Democrats in restoring them.

Because the truth is that we can restore the health care cuts. And we can do it without raising taxes. The numbers are clear: based on the Blunt administration's own figures, it will cost $255 million to restore the health care cuts. According to the Speaker of the Missouri House, the state has an extra $600 million in the budget—more than enough to restore the cuts today.

Now, fixing the health care crisis is only the beginning. Democrats are putting forward fresh ideas to tackle a range of challenges facing Missouri families, like public education.

We believe that the quality of education a child receives shouldn't depend on where they live or what their parents do for a living.

In order for Missouri to move forward, we must once again make it a priority to invest in public schools. Today, we are investing a smaller percentage of the state budget in schools than we did when this governor took office.

What did our governor do instead of making education a priority? He fought to pass a voucher scheme which would have diverted your tax dollars away from your public schools and instead given them to private schools. But Democrats and Republicans stood together last year to defeat this proposal. We must never waver in our support for public schools.

Now, we are also moving in the wrong direction on college affordability. College tuition and student debt in Missouri is going up every year. It is now more expensive to go to a public four-year college in Missouri than in any other Big 12 state. And as tuition soars, Gov. Blunt and his allies have allowed Missouri to slide to dead last in our investment in higher education.

But instead of making that investment, the governor and Republican legislature slashed $350 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority—the one agency that's solely responsible is helping Missouri kids afford college. The middle class is getting squeezed out of a college education.

We must fix that. It's time to change direction, and Democrats are ready to lead.

When Mel Carnahan was governor, we started a program called A-plus—and it helps thousands of kids each year earn a degree at a community college, tuition free. We want to take that program a step further and make Missouri's students this promise. If you go to community college, work hard, earn a B average, and give back to your community, we'll make sure you can go and complete a four-year degree at one of our state colleges, tuition free. That would give every child in Missouri the opportunity to get the four-year degree that is so valuable in a 21st century economy.

It is absolutely crucial that our young people are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. I'm from De Soto, Missouri. I know what it does to a small town when the local factory shuts down or when the shops on Main Street have to close their doors. It's devastating. Our unemployment rate in Missouri is now among the nation's highest, and we're not keeping pace with our border states in creating new jobs. Democrats want to create new opportunities so that our children can stay here and aren't forced to move away to find a good job.

And when times are tough, it becomes harder to buy the home you want, or even keep the home you have. Your property taxes are going through the roof. We've introduced a specific plan to provide property tax relief to more regular Missouri families.

So on these and other issues, Missouri is moving backwards, not forward. It doesn't have to be this way. There's still time to change the direction of our state. But it will only happen with new policies, new ideas, and a new direction.

We live in a great state, and we know that our people have unlimited potential. We Missourians aren't complicated folks; we're not tough to understand. We're hard-working; we value family and faith. We like our high school football, our hunting and fishing, and our safe communities. We talk across the fence to our neighbors and we get involved in our kids' schools.

There is no limit to what we can do and what we can achieve. With the right ideas, the right priorities, and the right leadership, we can move Missouri forward again.

Thank you for listening. Good night and God bless.

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