COLUMBIA — Gov. Mike Parson said he's still considering how to fill the lieutenant governor's seat he vacated after former Gov. Eric Greitens' resignation June 1.
Parson made the remark Wednesday at a University of Missouri event in Columbia, where he met with MU and UM System leaders. At issue is that neither the Missouri Constitution nor any state law defines how to appoint a new lieutenant governor in case of a vacancy.
Parson stopped in Columbia on Wednesday as part of a statewide listening tour he embarked on this week. Parson met with MU leadership and lawmakers from around the region, like state Reps. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, and Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit.
MU leadership showcased research being done by the University of Missouri School of Medicine during the hour-long event. During a tour of a building on campus, Parson used virtual reality software MU researchers use to make advances researching neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Elizabeth Loboa, dean of the MU College of Engineering, and others said they hope to use developments made at the MU nuclear reactor to turn Mid-Missouri into a hub for manufacturing biotech and pharmaceutical drugs.
MU leaders hoped to show the governor the UM System's value to the state. President Mun Choi said the system has an economic impact of $5.4 billion per year to the state. For each dollar invested in the system, it returns $13.50 to taxpayers, Choi told Parson.
Last week, MU announced plans to eliminate 185 positions and lay off 30 staff members in an effort to save $11 million. MU enrollment has been declining since 2015 after a series of racially charged protests on campus. Last June, the UM System cut $101 million and 474 jobs from its budget, including 300 in Columbia.
Choi said investments in research can play a vital role in creating revenue for universities. He noted MU has not constructed a research building since 2004 and would like to see future investments in research.
"We all recognize that state support for higher education throughout the United States is decreasing," Choi said. "So we have to be able to generate our own revenue through research and economic development."
Parson stopped Tuesday in Springfield, Branson, St. Joseph and Kansas City. After Wednesday's stop in Columbia, Parson was expected to visit Gordonville, Sikeston and St. Louis. Across the state, he said, workforce development remains a top concern for people he speaks with as companies look for new ways to train workers to meet their demands in a changing economy.
The governor said he has faith in Missouri's public universities, but he's concerned about debt loads students take on during college. Parson noted he hopes businesses will make investments in their employees through public-private partnerships.
"The business world is going to have to be part of the education of students across the state for us to be successful," Parson said. "We've got to make sure these people are not walking out of here without a tremendous amount of debt."
In April, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Missouri a grade of C- on its infrastructure report card. The group said the state needed to make significant investments in its roads, bridges and railroads or they may soon start to crumble.
Parson said infrastructure improvements are a chief concern for economic leaders across the state and that improvements to infrastructure will be a top priority of his administration.
"We cannot keep kicking that can down the road," Parson said.