by Collin Reischman
Jefferson City, MO — Governor Jay Nixon put his full weight behind the expansion of Medicaid in his state of the State address to the Missouri General Assembly on Monday, Jan 28, as well as announcing a sweeping agenda that includes several new programs for public education, mental health and campaign finance reform.
“The answer is clear; the people of Missouri deserve to see their tax-dollars come back to their communities,” Nixon said.
Nixon cited support for the Medicaid expansion from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, as well as chambers in Springfield, Lee’s Summit, Saint Louis and Independence.
Nixon pointed to the $5.7 billion Missouri stood to gain in the first three years with no additional state costs. He asked the audience to “put aside the politics” of healthcare and consider it as a “business decision,” carefully treading the line between support of the expansion and support of the federal legislation that spawned it, the Affordable Care Act.
“Now I know there are some who have voiced their concerns that Washington will not live up to its commitment,” Nixon said. “Let me address that directly: I support including a provision that rolls back the Medicaid expansion if Washington doesn’t honor its financial commitment.”
Nixon argued that 24,000 jobs would be created in 2014 alone as a result, and that healthcare would become immediately available to 300,000 Missourians.
Nixon didn’t hesitate to tout his own record, reminding the GA that the Claycomo plant would have closed, had the special session not reached an agreement on the issue two years ago.
“Instead, automakers are investing more than $1.5 billion in Missouri, creating thousands of jobs at the Ford plant in Claycomo, the GM plant in Wentzville, and suppliers in every corner of the state,” Nixon said.
Along with reinforcing his own record as a job creator and waste eliminator, Nixon announced several new programs, including the “BOOST” Fund. BOOST stands for Building Opportunities in Our Schools Today, according to Nixon’s address. BOOST is intended as a “low-interest loan fund dedicated to improving our public schools,” Nixon told the assembly.
Education was a primary focus, as Nixon announced his intentions to increase funding for public education by $150 million, including $17 million for programs like Early Head Start and $100 million for new K-12 classrooms.
Nixon also intends to increase funding for the A+ scholarships to include every public school in the state. The expansion would allow any student in the state to attend 2 years of community college, tuition free.
“Education is the best economic development tool there is,” Nixon said before announcing higher education funding changes based on performance goals, rather than prior funding given.
The final piece of Nixon’s education focus was the Western Governors University, established in 1995 by 19 United States Governors. The institution offers bachelors and masters degrees in business, healthcare, information technology and teacher preparation.
WGU is non-profit, and does not charge tuition based on the number of credit hours, but rather at a flat rate. According to Nixon’s address, WGU is online, and offers courses, which can be completed at the leisure of the student.
“In the past three years, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels and the states of Texas and Washington have established WGU in their states,” Nixon said. “And starting this year, we will begin enrolling students at WGU-Missouri.”
Nixon, in appealing to small-government conservatives, touted the need to simplify “our convoluted environmental permitting process,” which includes consolidating or eliminating several commissions at the Department of Natural Resources.
Nixon closed by addressing elections and campaigns.
“Missouri ethics laws are among the weakest in the nation,” Nixon said. “But all of the ideas and proposals I outlined tonight mean very little if the people of Missouri lose faith in the system.”
Nixon came out for strong campaign finance reform. He promised to get a campaign contribution limit on the ballot in the general election if the legislature is unable to send it to Nixon’s desk.
The republican response to Nixon’s speech was, as expected, a sharp rebuke of the majority of Nixon’s policy proposals. Speaker Tim Jones, Budget Chairman Rick Stream and Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith took questions in Jones’ office immediately following the address.
“I think there is a lot of common ground rhetorically,” Jones said. “But I think we heard half the equation, a focus on spending. Governor Nixon just proposed one of the largest, if not the largest, budget in the state’s history.”
Jones chided Nixon’s desire to expand Medicaid, calling the exploding cost of healthcare litigation “the real crisis,” and telling the audience that Medicaid was ultimately an entitlement, and one that will expand rapidly if Missouri moves forward with the Governors proposal.
Stream said Nixon’s proposal to expand A+ statewide with a one million dollar increase was not possible.
“I’d like to see the price tag on that,” Stream said. “The original program encouraged high schools to set up criteria for students to improve their learning abilities. That has gone away. Once the higher education folks took it over, those criteria went away and now it’s just to help poor students get to college. I’m not opposed to that, but you’ll find a lot more students are going to be qualified for it, once those criteria go away, I think you’ll see a dramatic increase in qualifying students and I just don’t see it funded at $1 million.”
Smith slammed Nixon’s statements on campaign contribution limitations.
“Time and time again, the Governor tries to pass laws to govern his own activity, yet he’s one of the biggest abusers of large campaign contributions, yet every year we hear about this,” Smith said. “He needs to lead by example and stop taking excessive amounts in campaign contributions.”
When asked about the Triple A bond rating touted by Nixon, Jones had a quick response, citing Nixon’s decision to purchase a new plane on the state’s dollar.
“Well, he bought a new plane,” Jones said. “I’m not sure why he needed a new plane, unless the old plane couldn’t get him to New Hampshire and Iowa.”
What Others Had to Say:
“In what I consider the best speech the Governor has ever given, he gave common-sense solutions to major issues that we are going to be taking up this session, including Medicaid expansion and education. Democrats will be sleeping a little better tonight, knowing that Jay Nixon is fighting for Missouri.” – Rep. John Rizzo.
“Wouldn’t it be refreshing for Governor Nixon to offer an alternative to Washington DC’s bankrupt agenda? We all know in Missouri that expanding welfare is a non-starter and only creates bigger problems down the road. Washington doesn’t have to balance budgets, but we expect the Governor to do just that, and fight the ever-expanding welfare state.” — Rep. Casey Guernsey.
“Governor Nixon’s State of the State address seemed to be very ambitious in increased spending: I am not sure if the state funding will be there. Increased spending for Education, Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health are positive and noble goals; hopefully his budget objectives can be accomplished with a balanced budget.” – Rep. Nate Walker.
“The governor gave a good speech. His active, engaged leadership over the next several months would be most meaningful. There is common ground, which he identified, but only active, engaged leadership will bring people together to get things done. The governor promoted Medicaid expansion as “the smart thing to do.”It’s not “smart”–it’s not fiscally responsible–to take on new burdens in the state budget, when those burdens will easily siphon money from education, including early childhood education, and other constitutional priorities. On education—the General Assembly reversed his recommended cuts to education last year. On jobs—the General Assembly passed legislation last year to cut red tape and give Missourians a greater voice defending their businesses and lives from burdensome regulations.On leaner government—the General Assembly has been trimming and streamlining Missouri government for a decade. On balancing the budget without tax increases?General Assembly has been passing balanced budgets without raising taxes – and consistently leading on all of these issues – for a decade.” – Senator Bob Dixon
“I think it is important for us to work with the Governor on the things we agree on. On the areas of disagreement we [the legislature] should lead, and seek solutions that move our state forward. For example, we need to have a serious discussion on broad based tax reform and allow individuals and small businesses to keep more of what they earn. This is a policy discussion that can lead to greater prosperity for all Missourians, as well as grow our economy.” – Senator Eric Schmitt.
“As I listen to Gov. Nixon’s
#MOSOTS address, I keep coming back to one important thought…where’s all this money coming from?” – Rep. Caleb Rowden
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.