JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson focused on past achievements and future plans in the areas of workforce development and infrastructure improvements during his second State of the State address, delivered Wednesday afternoon to the Missouri General Assembly in the Capitol’s House chambers.
Parson also emphasized the need to come together on issues legislators agree upon, rather than focusing on their differences.
“We won’t always agree, and there will always be issues we each feel passionately about,” Parson said. “But I am confident that by working together, the potential for our regions and the entire state of Missouri is even greater.”
Several leading Democrats said later in the day that they were skeptical.
The governor painted a bright picture of his accomplishments over the past year and the state of Missouri’s economy.
Last year, the legislature approved $50 million of general revenue and $300 million in bonds to fund bridge repairs, and the state received federal grants to help fund the replacement of the Interstate 70 bridge over the Missouri River near Rocheport, along with other projects.
Parson said he will continue to push for more money for infrastructure repairs and proposed another $50 million for transportation cost-share projects with local governments.
The governor also addressed the spate of violent crime in metro areas by proposing increased funding for witness protection programs and mental health services, in addition to harsher punishments for violent criminals.
The initiatives are partially the result of a November summit Parson held with the mayors of the four largest cities in the state: Quinton Lucas of Kansas City, Lyda Krewson of St. Louis, Ken McClure of Springfield and Brian Treece of Columbia. He introduced all four of them in the House chamber.
In his speech, Parson left out one agenda item the group had agreed upon: a measure to prevent minors from owning handguns.
“These mayors understand my commitment to support the Second Amendment for law abiding citizens,” Parson said. “And let me be clear … during my six years in the Army, 22 years in law enforcement, and as a lifetime member of the NRA ... I have never wavered in my support for the Second Amendment.”
Workforce education continues to be a priority for the governor. Parson highlighted the successes of programs he initiated last year, such as the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant, MoExcels and Missouri One Start. This year, he plans to direct more workforce preparation initiatives toward middle school and high school students. Additionally, Missouri received a $33.5 million federal grant to fund preschools.
“With this funding, we have the opportunity to strengthen our early childhood offerings and better prepare Missouri children for success, which is crucial to the development of a strong workforce,” Parson said.
In a news conference in the House Lounge immediately after the governor’s speech, House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Parson has “failed to use the opportunity to improve the lives of its people.”
Quade came out swinging, noting that Parson was not elected governor but ascended to the job from his lieutenant governor post after his predecessor, Eric Greitens, “resigned in disgrace.”
“In his latest speech, Gov. Parson tried to create the impression that he had become the unifying leader we had hoped he would be. But after 18 months, Missourians know precisely what to expect from our ‘accidental governor,’ and it is that he will not put their interests first.”
Quade said she’s come to believe Parson is more of a “divider” than a “unifier” as governor.
“The big picture takeaway is that he is wanting to celebrate a whole lot of things while we are having a whole lot of Missourians suffer,” Quade said. “He talked a lot about success in workforce development, but we still have lots of folks living in poverty and children losing their health care every single day.”
Angst about the estimated 100,000 children in Missouri who have been dropped from the state’s Medicaid rolls was a common theme among Democrats after Parson’s address. They blame the governor. Quade; State Auditor Nicole Galloway, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor; Senate Democratic Leader Gina Walsh and Sen. Jill Schupp were among those who cited the issue of children and health care as something that angered them about the governor’s speech.
“Missourians know that when more than 100,000 children are stripped of their health care coverage without warning or cause, the Parson administration, instead of working to fix the problem, will simply declare that no problem exists,” Quade said during the conference.
“Governor Parson has resisted calls to investigate, has offered excuses, and now refuses to take accountability for the purge of eligible kids from their health insurance,” Galloway said in a news release. “This is unacceptable.”
Senate Minority Floor Leader Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, called the speech “disappointing and, frankly, troubling,” in a news release. “The biggest issues facing Missouri were essentially ignored by Gov. Parson today, and that is incredibly unfortunate for middle class families.”
MO HealthNet Division Director Todd Richardson called the decline in Medicaid enrollment a “return to the mean” from a surge during 2015 and cited a combination of contributing factors, including a strong state economy and annual “redetermination” requirements.
“One of the reasons that we’re seeing a decline in enrollment is we simply don’t have the number of new applications that we normally do, but we also had a backlog of redeterminations that the state had to work through because we had a period of time where we didn’t have a system that allowed us to do those as completely as we’re required to do by federal law or that we’ve done in the past,” Richardson said.
Rep. Kip Kendrick, D-Columbia, said he had “mixed feelings” about the governor’s remarks, saying there was a mix of issues that have seen bipartisan support, such as infrastructure and criminal justice reform, and others that he disagrees with.
Kendrick, who serves as ranking minority member on the House Budget Committee, cited the state’s budget as one of his top commitments and said issues raised in the speech will manifest in the budget.
“You heard this afternoon throughout the speech different proposals that the governor plans on putting forward, which will be reflected in the governor’s budget recommendations,” Kendrick said. “As we move forward in fiscal year ’20 and get a better understanding of where revenue may be for the remainder of the year but also what projected growth looks like for FY ’21 we’ll dig into the recommendations, and I’m sure come up with our own recommendations here in the General Assembly as well, and pass a balanced budget.”