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Governor extols less government, doesn't mention state pay

Governor extols less government, doesn't mention state pay

Mid-Mo lawmakers generally pleased with speech

January 11th, 2018 by Bob Watson and Joe Gamm in Local News

Gov. Eric Greitens enters the House of Representatives Chamber on Wednesday at the Capitol to deliver the 2018 State of the State Address to the General Assembly.

Photo by Mark Wilson /News Tribune.

Gov. Eric Greitens on Wednesday night praised efforts to "continue to shrink the size of government," but said nothing in his State of the State address about raising state employees' lowest-in-the-nation pay.

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State government began downsizing its workforce a decade ago, during then-Gov. Matt Blunt's term — and that process continued through Jay Nixon's eight years and Greitens' first year in office.

"Today, the government of the state of Missouri is the smallest it's been in two decades," Greitens said during his half-hour address.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune further reductions are a long-term goal.

"I hear 'downsizing,' and I also say 'efficiency,'" he explained. "This is not something (that) means overnight pink-slips and layoffs.

"This is a long-term plan that, as you try to put in place and bring (better) technology into state government and improve efficiency, over a period of 10, 15 or 20 years, I think the size of government will look smaller."

Kehoe and Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, had said earlier in the week they hoped Greitens would mention a state employees pay raise in his State of the State address.

"Hopefully, we can get a raise for some of our state employees" this year, Bernskoetter said.

Kehoe added: "I hope you see it in the budget — that's where it would be an appropriate spot."

But most of Mid-Missouri's House members said Greitens' comments were right in line with what they hoped to hear.

They appreciated the data that said legislators have taken 33,000 regulations off Missouri's books. And they are proud the state has its lowest unemployment rate in the past 17 years.

In her first full General Assembly session, Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, said she thought the comment reflected the issues upon which she campaigned.

"The governor's priorities are just right in line with my own personal priorities," Walsh said.

She said she heard one person describe the regulations in a unique way — like pebbles in a stream, a few don't do much, but as more and more accumulate, it cuts off the flow of water.

"In the same way, regulation becomes a burden on businesses," Walsh said. "And that has such a huge impact on the economy."

Greitens also talked about streamlining Missouri's boards and commissions and urged lawmakers to pass Sen. Jeanie Riddle's bill that does that.

Although Riddle, R-Mokane, wasn't available for comment after Greitens' speech, Kehoe said: "Going through those (boards and commissions) and making those the right size will be a good thing for government and a good thing for citizens.

"But it will take a little bit of time to get that done — and a lot of time, once the legislation is passed, for it to actually happen."

Since Greitens became governor a year ago, Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, said the General Assembly has accomplished a lot.

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"I really appreciate the work we've gotten done this year," Fitzwater said. "And looking forward, I'm thrilled about any tax reform. I'm really excited about tax discussions in this state."

Greitens promised to release next week a "detailed, thoughtful and thorough plan to cut taxes."

Meanwhile, Fitzwater said, he's sponsoring a tax reform bill that mirrors a Senate bill and eliminates loopholes some corporations are taking advantage of.

"And, we're giving a tax break to the rest of the citizens of Missouri," Fitzwater said. "So, I'm thrilled that the governor has similar ideas. I'm thrilled that that's on his agenda."

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune: "We live in a pretty great state. And the governor did a good job of laying out a case for helping kids in foster care."

In the address, Greitens said 13,000 children now reside in foster care. They are not only wards of the state, they are in law and spirit our children, he said.

Another priority for Barnes is the national opioid crisis.

"I think the opioid crisis in Missouri and elsewhere is something that needs a legislative response," Barnes said.

He said he's filed a bill allowing for opioid prescription take-backs, similar to other states, allowing the removal of unused opioids from households.

Another bill he intends to file will create a database of people for whom there has been a history of opioid problems.

"I have been a very outspoken critic of prescription drug monitoring programs because I think it is very un-American to create a program to track everything that an individual does in any aspect," he said. "But, we have an opioid problem in this country and we need legislation that goes toward fixing it."

Although the governor said the state had made "strategic investments" in infrastructure, he didn't offer any specific details of future efforts.

Bernskoetter said the state needs to come up with a solution for aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, utilities, water and sewer.