JEFFEFRSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon used the first State of the State address of his second term to pitch plans for increased education funding, Medicaid expansion and campaign finance reform here on Monday night.
Nixon, a Democrat, delivered his address to a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly dominated by a Republican supermajority that at times seemed less than enthused by Nixon’s proposed $25.7 billion state operating budget — especially his call for the state to join Medicaid expansion for some 250,000 low-income Missourians provided for under the federal Affordable Care Act and its $900 million price tag.
Citing improving economic factors across the state, Nixon told lawmakers “we have unique opportunities before us.”
“Now we are in a position to make smart, long-term investments that will boost our children’s academic achievement, protect Missourians’ health, strengthen our work force, improve our quality of life and create prosperity for generations to come,” Nixon said.
Among his proposals, Nixon called for a $150 million increase in education funding, saying “nothing will have a greater impact on our children’s future than the commitment we make now to their education.”
That increase would include $17 million for early childhood education; $34 million for higher education; and $100 million for public schools.
“Of course, with increased funding come higher expectations. We expect better test scores, better graduation rates, more college degrees and more Missourians ready to compete for the best jobs in a global economy,” Nixon said.
His call for expanded Medicaid coverage drew strong applause from Democratic lawmakers, though the Republican response was largely muted. Nixon stressed both the value of the expansion to low-income workers as well as the state’s business community, who were represented in the gallery by members of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and other municipal business groups.
“The biggest economic decision facing our state right now is how to move forward on health care,” Nixon said. “Let’s put the politics of health care aside for just a moment and look at this as a business decision for the state.”
Under ACA, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the cost of expansion for the first three years — $5.7 billion for the state over that time period — with the state’s share eventually increasing to 10 percent.
Noting that some members of the General Assembly have expressed concern that the federal government would not live up to its end of the bargain over the long haul, Nixon said he favors “including a provision that rolls back the Medicaid expansion if Washington doesn’t honor it’s financial commitment.”
“If Washington drops the ball, we will do what is right for Missouri,” he said.
Nixon also called for lawmakers to pass comprehensive ethics and campaign finance reform legislation that would limit direct cash donations to candidates, telling reporters earlier in the day that such contributions are “corrosive to democracy.”
“Missouri’s ethics laws are the weakest in the nation,” Nixon said. “Each time a wealthy individual or business or special interest sends a check for $20,000 or $50,000 or $100,000 to a candidate, the public’s trust erodes a little bit more, and, eventually, if we continue down this path, there will be no trust left at all.”