Governor Jay Nixon pitched a nearly $26 billion budget to the state of Missouri during Monday night's State of the State Address. It includes spending increases for K-12 schools, higher education, and the proposed Medicaid expansion he’s been calling for since late November.
Governor Nixon has been criticized over the past two years for cuts to Missouri’s universities and colleges, including a $9 million cut last year. But this year’s about-face is based on positive estimates of the state’s revenue growth. Nixon told lawmakers he wants to increase education spending by $150 million.
“That’s $17 million more for early childhood education," Nixon said. "That’s $34 million more for Higher Education, and that’s $100 million more for our K-12 classrooms!”
The Governor also talked about the length of Missouri’s school year, which he said is too short and called on lawmakers to add six days to the public school year. The $34 million increase to higher education would also come with some conditions. Nixon endorsed tying funding to performance standards, including increased student retention and graduation rates.
The Governor spent nearly 8 minutes talking about Medicaid. As expected, he called for expanding Medicaid to an additional $300,000 Missourians, $259,000 in the next fiscal year, and the rest in the coming years.
“Will we let the tax dollars that Missourians send to Washington be spent in other states instead?" Nixon said. "The people of Missouri deserve to see their tax dollars come back to their communities.”
Democratic lawmakers gave him several standing ovations during the Medicaid portion of the address, while the GOP majority mostly remained quiet, save for a few groans and chuckles. Nixon acknowledged their skepticism.
“Now I know there are some who have voiced concern that Washington will not live up to its commitment," Nixon said. "Let me address that directly." Nixon paused for a brief round of laughter from the audience.
"I support including a provision that rolls back the Medicaid expansion if Washington doesn't honor its financial commitment," Nixon said.
But even that revelation didn’t mollify the GOP’s opposition to the Governor’s Medicaid expansion plans. House Speaker Tim Jones delivered the Republican Response immediately after the Governor’s address.
“We have a Governor and a federal government that believes bigger government is the answer," Jones said. "They want to take us down a fiscally irresponsible path that will saddle future generations of Missourians with a bill they cannot afford. It’s a path Republicans will not follow."
Jones said that Governor Nixon has ignored the state’s real medical crisis: the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision to get rid of caps on medical malpractice damage awards. Jones also attacked the Governor’s track record on education spending, specifically his $9 million cut to higher education last year
“Despite his claims that these cuts had to be made to balance the budget, he was able to find nearly $6 million of your tax money to buy a brand new plane," Jones said.
On the topic of ethics reform, Governor Nixon in recent years has called on Republican lawmakers to join Democrats in restoring campaign contribution limits — a call that’s gone unanswered each year. This time, he took a hard-line approach.
“If the legislature does not send a campaign contribution limit bill to my desk, I will do everything within my power to get it on the ballot and make sure it passes," Nixon said.
After the address, Jones called the Governor’s tone on campaign contribution limits too strong, and Speaker Pro-tem Jason Smith in effect called Nixon a hypocrite for accepting donations much higher than the cap that used to exist.
Governor Nixon also announced plans to cut 190 state jobs, which would include some layoffs – and he unveiled four proposed bond issues that would fund improvements to K-12 schools, college campuses, state parks, and the state’s mental hospital at Fulton. Nixon said they would be paid for by reforming Missouri’s system of tax credits.
Lawmakers have until early May to pass the state budget.