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State of the State: Parson says Missouri is poised to make ‘fundamental investments’ as economy is strong

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson touted a strong and recovering economy, promising Missouri is poised to make “fundamental improvements” to the state. 

In his annual State of the State address Wednesday, Parson praised Missouri’s “commonsense approach” to the COVID-19 pandemic and refusal to shut down the state as the catalyst for the state’s strong economy. He said Missouri’s economy was so strong — even without the influx of federal funds — the state is prepared to make several investments with his budget recommendations. 

“With a historic budget surplus and federal dollars coming to our state, we want to build on our past momentum to capture even greater opportunities for the future of Missourians,” Parson said. “When other states will be using federal dollars to fill spending gaps and budget shortfalls, we will be making investments in the future because in Missouri, we took a commonsense approach to the pandemic, never shut down businesses, and have always had a conservative and balanced budget.” 

“Missouri is open for business, and business is good. The rest of the nation is taking notice, and companies are looking to our state for their future business expansions.”

Parson said Missouri’s unemployment rate is 3.5 percent — below what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. He praised his decision to end federal pandemic-related unemployment assistance in May 2021, earlier than many other states. 

“We protected lives and livelihoods,” Parson said. “And when it comes to COVID-19 mandates, I firmly believe that the people should have say through their local elected representatives and not be dictated by needless executive action or any one person.”

“We have real opportunity to make lasting investments in … the future of our state,” Parson said. “But with these opportunities comes a responsibility to be mindful about the role of government and where and how it should be involved. Government should invest, not waste. Government should lead, not dictate. Government should support, not mandate.” 

The governor also said Missourians can expect a new tax cut, reducing the tax rate to 5.3 percent. 

Parson called on the legislature to establish a cash operating expense fund by setting aside 2.5 percent of general revenue funds to use if Missouri’s economy declines.

Additionally, Parson recommended an immediate 5.5 percent increase in pay for state employees which received a standing ovation from legislatures on both sides of the aisle. 

He also asked the legislature to permanently establish the Fast Track Program, a financial aid program that helps adults receive certificates and degrees in certain high-need areas. Parson said the program saw a massive increase during the pandemic with 80 percent of recipients women and 50 percent first-generation college students. 

“Missouri’s economy is strong. With a historic budget surplus and federal dollars coming to our state, we want to build on our past momentum to capture even greater opportunities for the future of Missourians,” Parson said. 

Parson said Missouri ranks last in the nation in terms of starting teacher pay and called for an increase of the baseline salary to at least $38,000. 

Parson also commended the state on its COVID-19 vaccine distributions, saying one of Missouri’s “greatest successes” was getting more than 94 percent of Missourians 65 and older vaccinated. 

“Nevertheless, state government accepted the challenges and prevailed by focusing on fairness in our vaccine distribution efforts,” Parson said. “While there will always be endless critics to tell us how we could have done it better, the facts are we were the ones in the arena. We made the tough decisions and never cowered to the challenge.”

Known for his commitment to infrastructure, Parson included $75 million for the state’s Transportation Cost-Share program and $100 million for improvements to low-volume roads in his budget proposal. 

“Road and bridge repair and broadband expansion are not only important for every Missourian but are critical for our state’s number one industry, agriculture,” Parson said. “For Missouri agriculture to remain strong, we must prioritize the extension of critical agricultural tax credits that support Missouri farmers and ranchers, ag-businesses, and value-added products.”

This year’s address was held in the House — as is tradition — despite several lawmakers out of the building due to COVID-19. Last year’s State of the State moved to the Senate last minute because of the pandemic. 

Read Parson’s full State of the State speech below. 

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Editor’s Note: Gov. Mike Parson will be the featured guest on “This Week in Missouri Politics” Sunday to discuss his State of the State address.