Nixon wants to improve Mo. government efficiency

In this Feb. 9, 2012 file photo, Gov. Jay Nixon talks to members of the media during a question and answer session at the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City, Mo.

In this Feb. 9, 2012 file photo, Gov. Jay Nixon talks to members of the media during a question and answer session at the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City, Mo. Photo by The Associated Press.

Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday that reorganizing Missouri's environmental regulatory agency will be among his priorities next year, and indicated he wouldn't back down from trying to expand Medicaid even though Republicans control the Legislature.

Nixon, a Democrat and the first governor to win re-election since 1996, said during an interview with The Associated Press that he wants to focus on initiatives that could have a long-term impact. He said that includes focusing on government efficiency, education and economic development.

The governor wants to consolidate some of the nearly two dozen commissions within the Department of Natural Resources. That, he said, could streamline the process for businesses and individuals to move forward on projects without inhibiting efforts to keep the state's air and water clean.

Nixon said he expects additional proposals in coming months from a government efficiency initiative he launched after his re-election in November. The effort is led by his chief of staff and policy director.

"We're always working to run government better, make it more efficient and more effective," he said.

Nixon also reiterated his support for expanding Medicaid, which already has caused friction with Republicans who now hold supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Such a majority means that if Republican lawmakers stick together, they have enough votes to override any veto.

The governor has said he supports expanding Medicaid for adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — which equates to $15,415 for an individual or $26,344 for a family of three — as allowed under the federal health care law. He argues that it is the right and smart thing to do.

Republicans contend neither the state nor the country can afford the expansion, and House Speaker Tim Jones earlier this month called it "economically reckless."

On Friday, Nixon said expanding Medicaid would be a collaborative effort involving health care providers, recipients, business groups and legislators.

"I've always thought about this not as a kind of light switch but as a broad and substantive discussion," Nixon said.

The governor's budget office last week estimated that Missouri could see nearly $47 million more in general revenues during the first year of a Medicaid expansion in 2014. That would grow to nearly $140 million in 2016, before declining to slightly better than break-even in 2021.

The analysis projects that nearly 260,000 adults would enroll in Medicaid in 2014 if eligibility is raised to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. By 2021, the additional enrollment is expected to reach more than 300,000.

On education, Nixon said he wants to expand a scholarship program, implement a performance-based funding model for higher education and focus on early childhood programs to ensure children are ready when they begin kindergarten. He also called for a discussion about whether to lengthen the academic year for Missouri's K-12 schools.

He said economic development plans include trying to boost tourism and increasing Missouri's exports while continuing to focus on job training programs.

The governor also renewed his call for tighter state campaign finance laws, noting that Missouri does not have campaign contribution limits.

Republicans generally have opposed contribution limits, saying they discourage transparency by creating an incentive to hide the origin of donations. House Republicans have said they plan to seek ethics legislation that would include requiring more nonprofit groups to disclose their donors.

"This is the year that I think the Legislature ought to get serious about passing a thoughtful, broad, comprehensive ethics package," Nixon said. "And I think they can."

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