JEFFERSON CITY — Legislators and interest groups had mixed reactions to Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State speech Tuesday night, but education and a new maximum-security mental hospital in Fulton were supported across party lines.
Nixon said this is the year the legislature will “get serious” about fully funding Missouri schools, proposing a $493 million increase to the existing budget. While Nixon’s rallying cries brought Democratic representatives to their feet, Republicans said they pushed this funding in past sessions.
“While the governor has tried to withhold $150 million for the last five years, we’ve toed the line, and I’m glad he’s come over to our way of thinking on that one,” said Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.
Charles Smith, president of the Missouri National Education Association, also supported Nixon’s education proposal “to fully fund Missouri's classrooms, increase student access to broadband, and to increase investment in Missouri's preschoolers."
House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, however, pointed out the irony of the governor's promises as he continues to hold on to $134 million from the last fiscal year.
"You just listened to the governor promise hundreds of millions of dollars to at least half a dozen different state programs, the money for which House and Senate economists have agreed that we do not have," Stream wrote in a news release.
Instead, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, suggested that a lower tax burden and less regulations would stimulate the economy. The Republicans, he said, would work hard to pass significant tax reform.
Rowden, along with his colleagues Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the governor’s proposed budget is not balanced, despite the governor’s claims. This disagreement comes from the differing revenue projections from the governor’s office and the legislature.
“The moral of the story is he is proposing a budget that is far, far out of balance,” Rowden said. “He’s spending $1.1 billion in new money from last year's budget where the legislature will probably end up spending $400 (million) to $450 million.”
Kelly, Rowden and Schaefer agreed in principle on the governor’s proposal to build a new state mental hospital in Fulton, but they said Nixon’s proposal is unconstitutional.
“He’s asking us to issue a bond without the vote of the people,” Kelly said. “I believe that to be unconstitutional. I don’t think we can go into debt.
“I've been trying to get it funded for six years,” he said about construction of a new Fulton hospital. “I’m glad he’s there, but he’s late to the party on that one. I think we should fund it with a bond. I think we should ask the people.”
Schaefer said the General Assembly proposed using some of the surplus from last year to build the hospital without using a bond, which the governor rejected.
“I would prefer to just simply write a check and build the Fulton hospital,” Schaefer said. “I would like to get the governor on board with that. If not, we’ll look at putting it in the bond proposal.”
The governor also proposed expanding Medicaid in line with the Affordable Care Act, in which the federal government will pay 100 percent of the new cost for the first three years in the states that agree to the Medicaid expansion. In following years, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost, leaving the state to pay the remaining 10 percent.
Schaefer believes that paying that 10 percent after three years will be too big of a burden on the state, and the government would be forced to take the money out of education, an issue the governor stressed in his speech.
“In a minimum, we know that after three years we’re committed to spending at least a couple hundred million dollars that can only come from public education,” Schaefer said. “It’s the only pot of money big enough.”
Despite Kelly’s other misgivings on Nixon’s speech, Kelly agreed with Nixon’s proposal to expand Medicaid.
“I thought the governor hit the Medicaid issue right on the nose,” Kelly said. “The entire business community in Missouri agrees with him. The entire health and education community all agree on the Medicaid expansion. The only people against it are the right-wing extremists.”