JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Jay Nixon entered the Missouri House Chambers to deliver his State of the State address under perhaps the most strained time of his tenure as the state’s chief executive.
Nixon entered a legislative chamber swelling with more Republicans — enough to easily override vetoes in either chamber — than ever in Missouri history. Nixon’s entrance came less than a year after losing to Republicans at the ballot on a measure restricting his budget authority, not to mention dissention in his party’s own ranks over his handling of the events in Ferguson. Nixon entered the chamber and, in the first minutes of his speech, addressed criticisms of being “aloof.”
“Rumor has it that I don’t spend enough time on the third floor,” Nixon said. “I hear you. And I’ll be coming around more often.”
Nixon’s FY2016 budget is a modest proposal, and is actually a smaller budget than FY2015. Nixon’s Budget Director, Linda Luebbering, attributed the shrinking budget to the state being “so heavily over-appropriated” in FY2014. Replacing dollars that never came but were appropriated has set the state back, she told reporters shortly before Nixon’s address.
Nixon’s budget includes modest proposed increases to the state’s foundation formula — to the tune of $50 million — along with new money from bonds for capitol renovation — $75 million — and $13.9 million for expanding Medicaid services for those with developmental disabilities.
“When I took office in January 2009, the state had lost more than 65,000 jobs in the previous year,” Nixon said. “The unemployment rate was 8.6 percent and rising. Today, we got the news that our unemployment rate just dropped again to 5.4 percent…That’s right. We just closed out the best year for job growth in 17 years.”
Nixon once again asked the legislature to “move past politics” and expand Medicaid in the state, wasting no time in naming the Republican governors around the country that are doing just that. Nixon also called on “serious consideration” of a toll road on the I-70 interstate or an increase in Missouri’s gas tax to fund the state’s crumbling road system.
The Democratic governor entered the chamber with many in the state and around the country wondering how he would address the unrest that occurred in Ferguson. Nixon called on municipal court reform, aligning the state lethal force law with U.S. Supreme Court precedents, strengthening failing schools and building economic opportunity, but offered little in specifics.
He also offered his support for ethics reform, something he’s mentioned in every prior State of the State address, a “clean” student transfer bill, opening up trade with Cuba and increased cyber security measures.
House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, likened Nixon’s speech to a repeat of “tired, failed” policies of the past. Diehl chided the governor for offering few specifics for his broad agenda and said the governor was repeating “lies” to the people of Missouri.
“This is the same old story, the governor making promises to spend money that isn’t there,” Diehl said. “What we heard tonight in terms of specifics involved more social spending, an expansion of the role of government, and more spending money that isn’t there.”
Collin Reischman is the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. To contact Collin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @CMReischman