Missouri Democrats praise Parson’s speech — and four other State of the State takeaways
Early in his annual State of the State address on Wednesday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson sang the praises of an income tax cut enacted by the Republican-dominated General Assembly late last year.
Closer to the end of his nearly one-hour speech to a joint session of the legislature, Parson vowed to “support and defend our law enforcement officers.”
In between, Missouri’s GOP governor laid out a legislative agenda that called for a mountain of government spending.
Parson’s proposed spending spree — fueled by more than $5 billion in surplus funds, thanks to federal COVID policies and the rapid growth in state revenues — drew bipartisan applause. But the loudest hosannas came from Democrats, whose loquacious praise of a governor from the rival party didn’t go unnoticed.
“We stood up and clapped for the governor’s priorities, almost every single thing that he said,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, told reporters after the speech. “I’m very grateful for that.”
GOP lawmakers were also quick with support of their fellow Republican after his speech, though often with a caveat that when it comes to a waterfall of government spending, the devil is in the details.
“I look forward to learning more about (the governor’s) spending proposals to see if they are something I can support,” said state Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.
In one of his last State of the State speeches before term limits push him from office, Parson laid out an aggressive agenda. Here are five takeaways.
Looking ahead to Parson’s speech last week, Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said he was hesitant to say too many nice things about the governor’s agenda for fear that it might be counterproductive.
“Majorities in these chambers get to a place where if a Democrat lauds praise on a Republican, it’s a death knell,” he said. “And I know everybody kind of thinks it’s funny. But it’s true.”
If Rizzo is right, the governor is in trouble.
Parson managed to bring Democratic lawmakers to their feet over and over again during his speech Wednesday, and Quade praised the governor for offering initiatives that she said, “Democrats have been fighting for for decades.”
The governor unveiled a plan to spend $78.5 million to increase subsidies that help low-income families pay for child care. He pledged $700 million to public schools, including $56 million to expand pre-kindergarten options to all four-year-old children eligible for free and reduced priced lunch at no cost
He promised to spend more than $400 million for higher education and $4.3 million for a new plan to improve Missouri’s maternal mortality rate. He also wants lawmakers to approve an immediate 8.7% cost of living increase for state employees.
Quade said Wednesday was the most she’s stood up to applaud during a State of the State since joining the House in 2017.
“I was the first to stand up in the entire speech,” Quade said. “Our entire caucus stood up more than the other side.”
Key GOP lawmakers, like Senate Appropriations Chairman Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, were also quick to praise Parson’s agenda, saying the spending builds on progress already underway around the state.
But some of Parson’s spending ideas didn’t land as well with Republicans.
For example, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, told St. Louis Public Radio that he has concerns about expanding pre-K.
“I don’t know if expanding government run schools to an earlier age is necessarily the answer to getting better outcomes,” he said.
With only two years left in office, Parson is clearly thinking about his legacy.
And a $5 billion surplus is a good place to start building one.
The governor mentioned a litany of infrastructure projects completed under his watch, pointing to 222 bridges and 1,700 lane miles of roads repaired.
But now he wants to spend nearly $1 billion to widen Interstate 70 in its most congested areas and vows to extend high-speed internet service to “every home, every school, every business, and every farm” In Missouri.
“If we can put electricity in every home,” he said, “we can do the same with broadband today.”
He also proposed spending $275 million dollars for capital improvement projects on college campuses, including $25 million dollars for “research, program development and training to increase our competitiveness for semiconductor manufacturing right here in Missouri.”
Increasing access to quality child care has garnered bipartisan support in the legislature.
On Wednesday, Parson joined the chorus.
“We know child care remains a struggle for many parents and businesses,” he said. ”Child care providers often have to limit their hours due to staffing shortages or increase their prices. This poses a real challenge to parents as they weigh the decision to work or stay home.”
He is proposing millions in additional spending, including three new child care tax credit programs.
“These programs will help improve child care facilities, support employers who support their workers with child care assistance and allow more of our dedicated child care workers to earn a pay increase,” Parson said, adding that Missouri should invest “more than $78 million dollars to increase child care subsidy rates to providers across the state.”
No red meat
Parson’s speech was heavy on spending, but light on policy pitches to his political base.
There was no talk of more tax cuts — an idea some Republicans, including House Speaker Dean Plocher, have called for in response to the state’s massive budget surplus.
The speech left out any discussion of transgender rights or “critical race theory,” two issues Parson lamented last year when they failed to find their way to his desk.
In fact, a host of legislative priorities pushed by GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republican lawmakers — from expanded school choice to initiative petition changes — got nary a mention on Wednesday.
While the governor earned praise from Democrats on a litany of issues, they weren’t as happy with his plans for school safety.
Parson specifically mentioned Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, where in October a student shot and killed two people and wounded six others.
The mother of the shooter asked police to take her son’s gun away nine days before he used it to attack his school, saying she was concerned about his mental state. Police said state law didn’t give them the authority to confiscate the weapon.
The governor proposed spending $50 million for school safety grants to “further protect our children and our schools.”
Quade said while she’s happy to see the funding, it’s time Republicans took gun safety seriously.
“Law enforcement went to do their jobs that they knew was the right thing to do and they were legally not allowed to, and now there are people dead,” she said. “And that is not something we’re going to be quiet about.”
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