JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri education topped the list of Gov. Matt Blunt’s priorities in his State of the State Address in front of the General Assembly on Tuesday night.
Blunt announced that “the state of our state is strong” to an excited Republican galley, while some Democrats sat motionless. He led his address with financial recommendations to improve health care access and education at all levels.
If the General Assembly approves his proposed budget this year, Blunt said he will have provided an additional $1.2 billion for education over a four-year period.
In his remarks, Blunt said he was recommending significant increases in funding at all levels of education, including a $121 million increase for elementary and secondary schools.
“Education is the most important investment we can make in our own and in our children’s future,” Blunt said. “Education remains my highest budget priority.”
Under the governor’s plan, colleges and universities are slated to get more than $54.2 million in direct funding, an increase of more than 6 percent. This funding would provide training for doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists in an attempt to meet health care needs.
While Blunt did call for increased funding from general revenues, he also called for $125 million in additional scholarships through the A+ and Access Missouri Programs. Another budget recommendation for fiscal year 2009 is to appropriate $31 million for construction, renovation and improvement of the MU Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.
Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, said, “One of the big positives is the money going to the Ellis Fischel Cancer Research center. It is good to see that it was explicitly put in there.”
MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said he was pleased to see the attention Blunt is giving to education.
“It’s very pleasing to see support for education as well as students,” Deaton said. “This will allow us to move ahead with education initiatives critical to the state.”
Overall, MU will be given $457.3 million toward education, bringing it closer to the 2002 fiscal-year budget.
“We are back to fiscal year 2002 levels, but that is a disappointment,” Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, said. “We need to do more in public higher education, but the leadership hasn’t been there.”
Harris said that while Blunt is trying to dig Missouri out of a hole that he dug, it is too little, too late.
While cheers and standing ovations followed Blunt’s promise to bring affordable health care to every Missourian, Attorney General Jay Nixon had his doubts.
Nixon delivered the Democrats’ response to the governor’s address, including a critique of the Blunt administration’s health care programs.
“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,” Nixon said, who said Democrats want to restore the cuts made in 2005.
Gov. Blunt’s Insure Missouri plan would allow health care access to an estimated 200,000 Missourians, once fully implemented this year.
His budget recommendations would also allow for a substantial increase in health care funding for autism treatment and services.
In Columbia, the recommendation would provide $5 million for the Thompson Center, a treatment and research facility for autism.
Overall, Blunt hopes that his proposals will honor the motto of Missouri: “That the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”