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Mid-Missouri legislators praise plan to invest in economy, education, state pay

by Joe Gamm | January 20, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Missouri Rep. Dave Griffith listens and takes notes as Gov. Mike Parson gives his annual State of the State Address on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. (Ethan Weston/News Tribune photo)

Proposed spending for the next fiscal year that Gov. Mike Parson laid out during his State of the State address Wednesday left a lot of Central Missourians very happy.

Among projects the governor's proposed budget touched on were: investments in workforce development, infrastructure and education; teacher recruitment and retention; and pay raises for state employees.

What's important, said Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, is that in the midst of a pandemic, Missouri is in a much better place than anyone thought it might be at the outset.

"We were concerned about the budget, concerned about the economic state, as a result of no one knowing what situation we would be in," Fitzwater said. "Where we're at is a small miracle, and the governor spoke to that."

He added the state has been smart about using one-time dollars it has access to.

The proposed 5.5 percent pay raise for state employees is much-needed, said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville. State employee pay raises are not a luxury, he continued.

"We have to remember, this is an ongoing charge," Veit said. "It is barely covering inflation. We need to make pay raises -- it is a necessity we need to do every year."

Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said he appreciated the governor's support for increasing state worker pay and the plan to establish a baseline salary of $38,000 for Missouri teachers.

"There was a lot there," Bernskoetter said. "A lot of investing."

With the state being the largest employer in Jefferson City, Bernskoetter said the state employee pay plan is important for his district, as is the Rock Island Corridor, which Parson said he wanted to invest more than $69 million in to begin developing a state park.

Bernskoetter said he was thoroughly impressed with the speech and the announcement of several historic state investments in infrastructure, workforce development, state parks and law enforcement training.

During his speech, Parson pointed to Lincoln University's Law Enforcement Training Academy as a public safety success for the state and announced his plan to provide $1 million for police academy scholarships.

"We're going to invest in colleges with a direction," Veit said. "We're going to invest in colleges for career placement. We don't want to educate a whole bunch of people who can't get jobs. We're going to get the best bang for our dollar."

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said he was pleasantly surprised Parson committed to invest in the police academy at Lincoln University and that the state would fund scholarships for the academy.

"What that academy is doing is providing a lot of training for -- Harris-Stowe (University) is a part of that -- they're using the St. Louis County Sheriff's Department and training them," Griffith said. "These dollars can be used for this program. The amount of money the St. Louis County sheriff is paying is a discounted rate."

The state wants them to be Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)-certified.

"I like that money coming back to my district," Griffith said. "Especially at Lincoln University. Lincoln University has historically not gotten its fair share."

Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, served on the House Budget Committee over the past three sessions. Walsh, who has been a supporter of Missouri Task Force One, an urban search-and-rescue team based out of Boone County that incorporates staff from Cole County emergency responders, said she was pleased to see that the governor included about $689,000 for training for the task force.

Walsh said Parson's strong support for public safety also pleased her.

"He got two standing ovations for public safety, when the governor said it was critical, and that while he's governor, he's going to work to defend and not de-fund law enforcement," Walsh said. "And work to ensure they have adequate funding."

Griffith said he was a little disappointed Parson didn't discuss veterans in the address.

"That's one of my priorities, is taking care of veterans," Griffith added. "They're always going to be uppermost on my mind."

Griffith has attended town hall meetings across the state to discuss broadband expansion, he said. Another positive takeaway from the State of the State was that the governor, in discussing broadband expansion, spoke about infrastructure.

Through the infrastructure is how you deliver expansion, he said.

"More and more of the farmers can program their tractors," Griffith said. "That's the future. Agriculture is our No. 1 industry. I was really glad to hear that."

He said he was also pleased to hear the governor talk about mandates.

"I have a lot of people in my district that want mask mandates," Griffith said. "Anytime you have the government telling you what to do and when to do it, where do they draw the line?"

There was nothing negative about the speech, Veit said. He added the state has to wisely use federal money that has come in.

Missouri must continue focusing on workforce development. It has to offer training for specific jobs.

The state must continue to attract employers, Veit said.

"We are creating an atmosphere where companies want to come here. No one who listened to that speech could come away and not have a positive feeling that despite COVID, we are making progress," Veit said. "The thing is, we have this opportunity now with this money -- we have to use it in a positive, responsible manner."

Bernskoetter said he also liked Parson's plan to add $281 million to the Cash Operating Expense Fund, which acts as a rainy day fund for the state. And he supports the governor's proposed tax cut.

"Getting people a tax cut, that's fantastic," Bernskoetter said. "If we can do more with less, we're happy to do that."

He said he couldn't think of anything in the speech that would be an immediate hard sell in the Missouri Senate.

Walsh warned Missourians that they might not wish to get too caught up in the celebration over the economy.

"I'm not sure exactly what the disconnect is because the numbers sound good," she said. "But everywhere that I've gone in my district and throughout the Fourth Congressional District, because I'm running for Congress, is that employers are struggling to find employees.

"I'm a little curious, despite the numbers, why on the ground is there such a disparity," she asked.

Hats off, she said, to the employers, who are manning the counters, busing the tables and doing all the work they would like to pay employees to do.

Praise for the State of the State also poured in from outside the Capitol chambers.

University of Missouri President Mun Choi said in a news release the governor's commitment to provide $265 million in funding for capital projects within the system will improve lives through groundbreaking research. Parson's recommendation of a 5.4 percent increase to core budgets of higher education is a key investment in higher education.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce said the governor laid out a "refreshingly positive vision for Missouri" in a news release: "While many challenges remain, our economy continues to strengthen and recover thanks to how our state has responded to adversity under Gov. Parson's leadership."

The chamber also praised the administration for its work preparing the state's workforce and focus on preparing infrastructure.

Following the governor's address, Missouri House Democrats acknowledged the state is in a good position economically, but criticized the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

House Democratic Leader Crystal Quade praised the Republican governor for proposing $400 million for high-speed internet and increasing spending on child care, mental health and teacher wages. Although she said a $38,000 minimum teacher salary was still not enough.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Related articles:

Governor proposes record $47.3B budget as he taps surplus, federal aid

Parson touts proposed state employee pay increase

Bills would alter Missouri's state employee retirement policies

Parson recognizes Fulton principal, calls for pay increases for state's teachers

Workforce development remains a priority in governor's State of State

Parson touts Missouri's COVID-19 response

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