JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon had a fairly successful session in getting the legislature to go along with the priorities he laid out in his budget plan, but the majority Republicans dismissed his other top agenda items and clashed with the Democratic governor about the state's fiscal policy.
Nixon began the year asking lawmakers to accept money under the federal health care law to expand medical coverage for low-income adults and to forgo an income tax cut that he denounced as a fiscal experiment.
But when the session concluded Friday, Republicans had repeatedly rejected expanding the Medicaid program and overrode his veto on a tax measure that he said would jeopardize future funding for education.
The governor also criticized several additional state sales tax breaks for particular industries that passed on the last day of the session. He said they could "blow up" the budget and that the legislature had "abysmally failed" in a core responsibility.
Republicans defended their fiscal policy as a means of boosting economic growth and improving Missouri's standing in competition with neighboring states that have also recently cut taxes.
"So many good-paying jobs are ahead because Missouri has finally put out the sign on our doorstep that we are wide open for business," said House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka.
Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Nixon was on the defensive this year, but that may make him more politically acceptable to Democratic voters should Nixon pursue higher political ambitions.
"By taking his positions against the legislature's actions, he's building himself up a little bit with Democrats in the state," he said.
Democrats were nearly universal in their opposition to the GOP tax cut plan that would gradually reduce Missouri's top individual income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent and phase in a new 25 percent deduction for business income reported on personal tax returns. The incremental tax cuts would begin in 2017 but only if state revenues continue to grow.
They also strongly pushed Nixon's Medicaid plan even as Republicans raised concerns about the long-term costs of the program. Robertson said it was important for Nixon to keep Medicaid on the agenda, in hopes that it could eventually pass once current Republican leaders leave office.
Nixon did have some success in securing other budget priorities. He said he was "appreciative" of the legislature for adopting his plan to build a new mental health facility at the Fulton State Hospital. The $211 million plan would issue bonds through the Missouri Development Finance Board to construct the facility and to be paid off over 25 years.
Lawmakers also approved $115 million in basic aid to public schools, though that was far less than the $278 million Nixon had proposed. Instead, legislators passed a surplus fund allowing schools to receive up to Nixon's proposed amount if revenues grow at the governor's more optimistic projections. With current revenues growing at a sluggish pace, lawmakers have said that is unlikely to occur.
The legislature's spending plan also includes Nixon-backed increases for higher education and health services for people with developmental disabilities.
Still other priorities languished. As in previous years, Nixon's call to rein in tax breaks for low-income housing and renovations of historic buildings went unheeded. Similar fates met his proposals to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and to reinstate campaign contribution limits.
Republican leaders were critical this week of Nixon's involvement with the legislative process, particularly when it came to revamping a 20-year-old law that allows students in failing districts to transfer to other public schools.
"I do think that having a higher level of engagement with the legislature would have helped on a lot of things," said Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.
Nixon has raised concerns about a provision of the bill that would allow students to attend private schools at public expense after exhausting other options and a local vote. Both Democrats and Republicans were critical of Nixon for not putting forward his own plan to resolve the issue.