JEFFERSON CITY — Jay Nixon made lots of promises while running for Missouri governor. Many remain unfulfilled at the midpoint of his term — supplanted by economic realities that have led Nixon to define success as abiding by the spirit of his campaign theme.
Nixon's own assessment is tempered.
"I've been a solid steward for the economy we've had," the governor said.
On Jan. 12, Nixon will have been governor for two years and will have two more years remaining in his term. But the Democrat already is planning his re-election bid for November 2012. He is likely to be challenged by Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who though not yet officially a candidate has been ramping up his rhetoric against Nixon.
Kinder contends Nixon promised virtually anything to anyone during his 2008 campaign — ignoring the costs of actually fulfilling his platform even though it was apparent before the election that the economy was worsening.
"It's never good to cynically hoodwink the people into voting for you by extravagant promises that he knew then he could not keep," Kinder said.
Nixon wrapped most of campaign proposals in economic terms. Expanding government-funded health care, college scholarships, public school funding and life sciences research were all billed as ways to boost the economy. His 34-page platform listed scores of specifics, including about two dozen ideas for "Turning Missouri's Economy Around" and about 30 education proposals.
Nixon's campaign pledges touched on several high-profile topics, including:
- Health care — Nixon pledged to reverse Medicaid cuts made by his Republican predecessor that eliminated government funded health care for about 100,000 Missourians and reduced benefits for hundreds of thousands of others.
He hasn't fulfilled that key pledge. Nixon did propose a partial restoration of the Medicaid cuts and an expansion of children's health coverage in 2009, but the Republican-led legislature shot it down, citing long-term budgetary concerns. He didn't try again in 2010.
Missouri has received more federal Medicaid money since Nixon became governor. But that has occurred largely because of an influx of stimulus money intended to help states balance their budgets.
Although it wasn't part of his campaign platform, Nixon did expand health coverage for children with autism. A law that took effect Saturday requires state-regulated group insurance plans to cover up to $40,000 of behavioral therapy annually for autistic children through age 18. Nixon also expanded the number of developmentally disabled people — whom he says includes some with autism — receiving government-funded home and community services.
- Higher education — Nixon campaigned on "The Missouri Promise," a proposal to expand an existing community college scholarship program to more students and provide four years of free tuition by allowing those students to subsequently attend a state university. He estimated it would cost $61 million.
Nixon's plan for four years of free tuition remains unfulfilled. But Nixon says he has upheld the spirit of his campaign theme to make college more affordable. Specifically, Nixon brokered a deal with college and university officials in which they agreed to hold tuition flat for two years in exchange for avoiding deep cuts in state funding. That deal expires at the end of this academic year. New state funding cuts — and tuition increases — are expected for the 2011-2012 school year.
- Public schools — As a candidate, Nixon pledged to work to fully fund the formula that distributes money to K-12 school districts, to look at increasing school transportation aid and to expand the Parents as Teachers early childhood program.
But schools did not receive the full increase called for by the funding formula during the 2009-10 academic year. And their funding is budgeted to remain flat during the current year, though the formula had called for a $100 million increase.
Faced with a budget shortfall, Nixon cut state aid for school busing both in 2010 and 2011 and has said additional cuts are possible in 2012. He also has cut funding for the Parents as Teachers program, which has limited the number of children who can be served.
- Economic development — Nixon incorporated his health care and education proposals under the umbrella of improving the economy. But he also laid out numerous other proposals, including full funding for life sciences research, an expansion of an income tax break for seniors and creation of a tax credit for investors in early-stage entrepreneurial ventures.
None of those things has happened. Nixon cut funding for Missouri's life sciences research board to help balance the budget. And the legislature failed to pass a Nixon-backed plan creating a dedicated incentives fund to biotechnology companies. The proposed tax break for early entrepreneurial investors also has failed in the legislature.
Nixon has signed legislation expanding some business tax credit programs while pushing to rein in others because of budgetary concerns. He has followed through on campaign pledges to direct more money to job training programs and expand high-speed Internet service in rural areas. Nixon's administration teamed up with telecommunications companies to win federal economic stimulus grants for Internet service. He used federal work force development money to provide summer jobs at state parks for more than 1,000 youths.
During the campaign, "we talked a lot about economic issues and trying to create jobs and careers in the state," Nixon said. As governor, "we have spent a great deal of time and energy doing that. We've had solid movement forward on a number of fronts there."
Kinder uses a baseball analogy to describe Nixon's performance. He puts Nixon's success at a level that likely would get a batter benched.
"He's not batting 1.000, he's not batting .300, he's not batting .200," Kinder said. "So it would appear that in an '08 campaign he was able to promise anything and get away with it."
David A. Lieb has covered state government and politics for The Associated Press since 1995.