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Local lawmakers generally pleased with speech

January 22, 2015 at 5:25 a.m. | Updated January 22, 2015 at 5:25 a.m.
Missouri Budget Director Linda Luebbering briefs members of the press on the recommended budget for fiscal year 2016 in her office prior to the State of the State address.

Mid-Missouri lawmakers generally were pleased with Gov. Jay Nixon's seventh State of the State address.

"It was interesting - the governor outlined some objectives that, I think, are nonpartisan, that we can work together on," state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, told the News Tribune, "such as education funding.

"I think that, if we can provide the additional education funding that he called for, and he doesn't withhold it out of the budget, we will have meaningful reform to (elementary and secondary) education throughout the state."

State Rep. Caleb Jones, R-Columbia, noted lawmakers have, for at least the last five years, "funded K-12 and higher education to record levels. We've done so every year.

"And we've done so the next year after that, and the next year after that, all the way up until now - and every year the governor's withheld money for K-12 education and also higher education.

"So I find it pretty disheartening now that he's using this as a platform to demand more funding."

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said education funding is a key part of the Legislature's budget plans.

"(The distribution formula) is $450 million underfunded this year," he said. "And it's anticipated that, without a major change, it will be about $475 million underfunded.

"I would support another $100 million - or more, depending on how it works out."

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, noted Nixon "talked about municipal court reform and that is something I would support."

Barnes is sponsoring some ethics reform bills, and appreciated the governor's call for "the need for ethics reform."

Freshman Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, agreed.

"I think we are all on board with some ethics reform issues," he said, adding he also liked hearing Nixon talk about economic improvements.

"When I was campaigning the economy was the most important thing to almost anybody I talked to," Fitzwater said, "so, hopefully, we can partner with the governor and make sure we are doing things that are good for our economy."

Rep. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said: "I liked the part where he said we are going to work together and rise above partisanship and also when he talked about leaving the state better than when we found it."

Freshman Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, was glad to hear Nixon talk about the improvements coming to Fulton State Hospital, because lawmakers last year agreed to a plan to rebuild the hospital that opened its doors 165 years ago.

Like Kehoe, the retired teacher also wants to make sure Nixon doesn't withhold any money budgeted for education, "because that puts our superintendents at a very big disadvantage to plan their year and their teachers to plan what programs they're going to offer."

Riddle also liked Nixon's call for bipartisan cooperation.

"I look forward to the opportunity for us to work together, to do great things for the state of Missouri and the Missourians who live here," she said.

Kehoe, a long-time auto dealer and former member of Missouri's Highways and Transportation Commission, said it was "interesting" that Nixon "has, all of a sudden, decided to engage in a conversation about transportation infrastructure (when) we've had problems with that for several years, now. I'm glad that he's throwing a few proposals out there for Missourians and the Legislature to look for.

"I think that's very important for us to do."

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, agreed the transportation proposals for converting Interstate 70 to a toll road and raising Missouri's 17 cents-per-gallon fuels tax are worth discussing.

"But, at the end of the day, where's the public support?" Dempsey asked. "I think it's critically important that, the next time we ask voters to help us solve this transportation problem, that we've got some indication that they're going to support it, so we don't waste critical time."

As he did last year, Schaefer complained about Nixon's argument that Missourians are paying money into the Medicaid system that's being used in other states, because Missouri has not expanded Medicaid to 138 percent of poverty, as the federal Affordable Care Act envisions.

"That's a false statement," Schaefer said. "Missouri is going to get a dollar amount back from the feds for Medicaid, based on a formula of economic factors and the population that we have on Medicaid.

"And, regardless of what we send to Washington (and) whether Florida or Indiana or anyone else expands, we get our dollar amount based on the formula. So, it's not true to say that, somehow, we send money to other states and we don't get it back, because we're not going to add 400,000 people to welfare, like the governor wants."

Nixon's administration estimates that expansion would provide services to at least 300,000 more Missourians than are eligible to receive them now.

Reporter Daniela Sirtori contributed information used in this story.


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