GOP iffy on Nixon's health care proposals in speech

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 | 11:16 p.m. CST; updated 10:51 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 3, 2010

*CORRECTION: Ron Richard is the state House speaker. An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified him.

 JEFFERSON CITY — While the job creation goals set out in Gov. Jay Nixon's first State of the State address Tuesday night were well received, his plan to expand health care faced opposition from Republican leaders.

The declaration of job creation was met with a standing ovation from both Democrats and Republicans, but Nixon's proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for the lower income found support only from the Democratic side of the chamber.

"A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce," Nixon said.  "A strong health care system will help lure new businesses to our state.  We must expand access to affordable health care, particularly for the 150,000 Missouri children who are uninsured today."

Some Republicans said they have their own ideas about health care proposals.

In response to a question about expanding health care, House Speaker* Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said, "We're not going to do that.  We have a plan for health care, and we'll be coming out with that around Feb. 1."

The Missouri Senate passed the Insure Missouri proposal, 30-4, last April, which provided health care to some lower-income residents who did not receive affordable insurance through their employer, and some senators said similar ideas should also be considered.

"There is no question that everybody wants to increase the level of people brought into health coverage," said Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.  "Whether you do that through Medicaid or you do it similar to a program that we brought up last year ... InsureMissouri ... There are a lot of ways to do that, and we look forward to working on that."

The governor emphasized the need for bipartisan ideas and compromise, especially with the budget limiting the avenues that can be pursued.  Some Republicans are willing to consider Nixon's ideas, though they said they have reservations.

"I'm skeptical about that (the Medicaid plan), but I'm not prepared to dismiss outright any of the proposals," said Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  "I think we need to take a full look at the context of the budget request and run the numbers and we can see where we're at.  I have some skepticism about our ability to do that within the resources we have."

Similar skepticism was expressed by Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, the House Budget Committee chair.

The job creation proposals that include tax breaks for businesses received a better reception among Republicans.

"I'd liked what he said about job creation.  With that, bipartisanship is still in the air," Richard said.

Nixon's plans centered around small businesses, the auto industry, energy-related jobs and state programs that encourage and create jobs.

"Every idea must be considered as we seek to create the jobs our state so needs," Nixon said.  "We're discussing some new programs and new ideas tonight.  Programs that don't work will be ended.  But when we know something works, we will increase our investment."

Nixon cited several programs already in existence whose growth he said he would continue to support.  Some of these programs seek to give tax credits to businesses while others provide jobs to individuals with disabilities, such as the Sheltered Workshop program.  He called on the legislature to send him a package before its spring break in March.

While the economic development package involves various programs to provide support and tax breaks for businesses, Nixon indicated there are limits.

"Tax credits are for creating jobs and strengthening communities, not for padding the pockets of the wealthiest among us," Nixon said as he advocated the review of every tax credit program.

Earlier this year, Richard — one of the legislature's leading proponents for economic development — said he thought it was time for the legislature to review the various tax credit programs that have been adopted over the years.

Some Republicans said they were pleased about emphasizing Missouri's already successful programs.

"I like what he said on economic development, talking about the strengths we have," said Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County.


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