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Missouri lawmakers offer hopes for State of State

Missouri lawmakers offer hopes for State of State

January 19th, 2014 in News

Gov. Jay Nixon addresses the Missouri Legislature as Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder looks out over the House floor during the 2013 State of the State address.

More funding for education. Medicaid expansion.

Those are the two main issues Gov. Jay Nixon has said he'll include in Tuesday night's State of the State address to a joint session of Missouri's General Assembly.

The 7 p.m. speech actually will fulfill two different constitutional mandates of the governor's duties.

The first requirement is a report on the conditions of the state: "The governor shall, at the commencement of each session of the general assembly ... give to the general assembly information as to the state of the government, and shall recommend to its consideration such measures as he shall deem necessary and expedient."

Those recommendations are his general proposals for new laws or changes in existing laws.

Historically, governors have combined that annual report with the other constitutional obligation: "The governor shall, within thirty days after it convenes in each regular session, submit to the general assembly a budget for the ensuing appropriation period, containing the estimated available revenues of the state and a complete and itemized plan of proposed expenditures of the state and all its agencies, together with his recommendations of any laws necessary to provide revenues sufficient to meet the expenditures."

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said last Friday: "What I hope to see in his budget are state employee salary increases."

Nixon has talked about that issue in the past, but has not done so this year, so far.

State Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, said: "The big thing I've worked on since I've been in office is a new Fulton State Hospital, with policies to go with it."

Fulton State Hospital cares for the people who have serious mental health issues and can't live on their own.

Started in 1851, Fulton State Hospital is the oldest still-operating mental health facility west of the Mississippi River.

Many of its facilities are outdated and in disrepair and - by modern mental health standards - poorly designed.

Riddle added: "The employees who work there are having their lives destroyed because of a very unsafe work environment."

Still, she noted, the $200 million price tag for replacing the hospital is hefty.

"That's why it's been kicked down the road for decade after decade - it's a large price tag," she said. "But we're at a point to where it can't be put off any longer."

State Sen. Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat who, after redistricting three years ago, now represents Callaway County and five others in east-Central Missouri, also is a long-time supporter of improvements at the hospital.

A lawyer, she also is an advocate for improvements to state services for children.

"I think that the Children's Division is, probably, one of the most overlooked divisions (in state government)," Justus said, "and the work that they're doing is, in my opinion, some of the most important work (in the state)."

She hopes the governor adds money to the division's budget.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is concerned with the full budget package - especially since the governor's office late last year didn't agree with the GOP-led House and Senate on the "consensus estimate" of revenues the state will get during the 2014-15 business year that begins July 1.

"Based on the disagreement that we had on the consensus revenue estimate, it appears that the governor may want to spend somewhere between $140 and $200 million additional, on top of what the House and Senate believe we will have in general revenue," Schaefer said. "We believe that the amount that both the House and Senate will appropriate to is the correct amount."

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, also serves on the Appropriations Committee.

"We had a lot of conversation about the tax cuts last year, and as I've said many times, Missourians can do a better job of being stewards of their money and spending it in our economy than the government can," Kehoe said. "The governor indicated last year, after the bill went through and the veto session, and there was a lot of hoopla, that he thought there was an opportunity to have a discussion about tax cuts."

Nixon has said he's in favor of targeted tax cuts, while Kehoe and Barnes both favor more across-the-board tax changes.

Barnes hopes Nixon "is more willing to work with the Legislature on a whole host of issues, including tax cuts, tax credit reforms to the so-called jobs tax credits, and Medicaid."

The governor supports expanding Medicaid, with the federal government's promise to pay for all that expansion for three years, and for 90 percent of it after the first three years.

Many Republican lawmakers oppose the expansion idea, but Barnes has sponsored a bill that focuses more on reforming Medicaid, to help control its costs.

And, he said, "I don't think the reforms I want, if the bill I've sponsored passes, are possible unless we also include some increases in eligibility."

Riddle wants the governor to talk more about "our utility infrastructure (which) is at the same type of point where we have to improve and replace, if Missouri citizens are going to continue to have the lights come on when they flip that switch."

In the past she has sponsored bills that would allow Ameren Missouri to make improvements at the Callaway Nuclear Plant near Reform.

Without offering her own specifics, Riddle said: "I hope that he, specifically, addresses the utility infrastructure improvement that's at a crossroads at this point."