Mid-Missouri legislators await Gov. Nixon's State of the State speech

Monday, January 20, 2014 | 8:12 p.m. CST; updated 6:40 a.m. CST, Tuesday, January 21, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Mid-Missouri legislators are eagerly awaiting Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address Tuesday, which he will use to outline the 2015 budget, but they're not sure what they'll find. 

Citing increased revenue and cuts in funding, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said he would like to see the governor reinstate money for education that he withheld in 2013 out of concern that the tax-cutting House Bill 253 would eat up too many state funds. The House attempted to override the governor's veto in a special session in September.

Nixon, who has broad constitutional powers to allocate money, released $215 million for education and other projects later in September 2013 but still holds onto $134 million, according to The Associated Press. The 2015 fiscal year budget begins in July. 

Columbia Democrat Rep. Chris Kelly looks forward to Nixon's plan to expand Medicaid. Kelly is sponsoring House Bill 1239, which, among other things, would expand eligibility for MO HealthNet benefits to people between the ages of 19 and 65. 

Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia said he is looking forward to the speech. 

"We never hear from the governor's office unless he's vetoing a bill," he explained. 

Caleb Jones considers the building bond issue a top priority, though he said Republican House Speaker Tim Jones hasn't referred it to committee. The $1 billion bond, which would be the largest in state history, would be used to renovate state buildings, including some at MU. 

The first two weeks of the session have gone by slowly, Webber said, but the tempo is expected to pick up. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, noted that the referral of more than 200 bills to committee shows the increased pace compared to 2013. 

Some legislators believe the tone this session will be positive, but with the approaching showdowns over Medicaid expansion, education funding and the "right-to-work" initiative, their cordiality will be tested. 

"I think it will be pretty contentious," Webber said, referencing how Medicaid expansion and the "right-to-work" pits the two parties against each other. 

Any time you get 163 people together, they're going to have some disagreements, Jones said.

"I've never been very good as a fortune teller," Kelly said about predicting the legislature's mood.

In his 2013 State of the State speech, Nixon supported Medicaid expansion, called for increased workforce training funding and proposed increasing education funding by $150 million.

After Nixon's speech, which is scheduled for 7 p.m., Tim Jones will give a rebuttal. 

Supervising editor is Gary Castor.

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