Governor Jay Nixon (D) will present tonight the final State of the State Address of his two terms. Nixon has told Missourinet he will keep working to serve the state as governor until the end of his term, and tonight’s address could offer insight into what his priorities will be.
Here’s a look at some of the topics being discussed the most at the Capitol, that Nixon could touch on tonight, and tonight at 7 p.m. click here to watch tonight’s address at Missourinet.com.
7) What’s in his budget proposal?
This is ranked seventh on our list only because it’s a given. The governor is instructed by the state Constitution to lay out his spending plan for the next fiscal year within 30 days of the legislature beginning its session. What he proposes this year, though, could be significant in several key areas.
Perhaps most important when it comes to the budget is what he isn’t likely to put in his plan, and that’s some kind of changes to bolster roads and bridges. Nixon says he backs an increase in the state’s fuel and diesel taxes to support transportation, but the House Republican majority’s leadership has suggested it wants to see what can be done in the budget instead. That could lead to some significant changes when the House gets a hold of Nixon’s plan – and that will be its first stop after today.
Nixon has given few hints to what his proposed spending plan will include, but he does intend to propose $131-million more for programs helping those with developmental disabilities. He also plans to increase performance-based funding for colleges and universities as part of an agreement with them to freeze tuition.
Where money for those increases will come from hasn’t been stated, and that brings us to number six on our list.
6) Medicaid expansion
Governor Nixon first called for the state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare after winning re-election in 2012 – to the ire of Republicans who oppose expansion, and accused him of not coming out in favor of it until after he’d won that election.
Nixon has since built expansion into the budget proposals he’s delivered to the legislature, and majority Republicans immediately went about stripping it out. Democrats say if Republicans would adopt expansion and accept the federal dollars tied to it, the state would have a lot more money to spend on things like fully funding K-12 schools. Republicans say the federal government can’t be counted on for that money, and they don’t like the metaphorical “strings” of policy they say would be attached to it.
With the legislature under Republican control, Medicaid expansion is almost a non-issue in the Capitol this session, with Democrats fighting to keep discussion of it alive but few predicting it has any real chance. Some Republicans continue to discuss Medicaid reform, however, and Nixon says the legislature already expanded Medicaid when it expanded access to dental care for low-income Missourians, supported by money collected in its tax amnesty program last fall.
5) State employee pay
Missouri employees are the lowest paid, or close to it, in several fields. Corrections employees are often noted in particular as staying in Missouri’s Department of Corrections long enough to train, only to then transfer to Illinois or Iowa where they can make significantly more doing the same job.
The legislature last year initiated a study of state employee pay that would go toward long-term recommendations of where those employees’ salaries should be, compared to other states, but Republicans have also called on Nixon to support a raise in the FY 17 budget.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) reiterated last week, “The House Leadership and the budget chairmen, we called on the governor to include a pay increase for state employees. I hope the governor will follow through on that and put it in his budget.”
Even if Nixon doesn’t include a pay raise in his budget, Republican budget crafters could do it when they make changes to his proposal, but some including Senator Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City) have said if Nixon doesn’t start that discussion, adding it later is “very difficult.”
4) The NFL in St. Louis
It is questionable whether this will be mentioned in the governor’s annual address, but we thought it bore mention.
Nixon and the Republican-controlled legislature have been at odds for months over his plan to extend the bonds that went to pay for the current NFL stadium in St. Louis to pick up part of the roughly $1-billion dollar cost of a new one. More than 140 legislators signed letters telling Nixon they would oppose any plan that did not go to a vote by the public or the General Assembly.
The Rams are now headed for Los Angeles, however, and Nixon has said emphatically and repeatedly that the plan for a new stadium would not move forward without a long-term commitment from a team that it would be in St. Louis.
With Nixon in his final year as governor, any role that he might play in St. Louis’ future as an NFL city seems limited at best. Also, St. Louis leaders are expressing little interest in trying to land another team, but it might still earn mention in his State of the State Address. Perhaps more likely is a mention of his desire to see the Riverfront in St. Louis redeveloped – something he stressed while discussing his stadium plan.
3) Ethics reform
Nixon, along with leaders in both parties and both chambers, has called for ethics reform in Missouri. Both chambers of the legislature seem to be on the way to sending him reforms, but it seems likely he will use the Address, as he has past addresses, to call for it.
Last year’s resignations of two state lawmakers – former House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, and former Senator Paul LeVota, amid scandals and allegations involving interns, have only accentuated that call.
Issues favored the most by Republicans are banning gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers, and keeping legislators and state elected officials from going immediately from office to lobbying. What Republicans don’t support is reforming – or capping – campaign donations.
Republicans say in the past, campaign finance limits led to donations being funneled through various committees making it difficult at best to find out who donors were, and say their opposition to limits comes from a desire for greater transparency. Democrats say huge donations at least appear too likely to equal favoring a donor’s position. Democrats also note that voters approved limits in 1994 – limits that were struck down by courts and replaced by the legislature, only to see the legislature vote to eliminate them in 2006.
If Nixon does talk about ethics reform tonight, look for him to stress his desire to see campaign contribution limits.
2) The University of Missouri
This past summer saw protests on the campus of the University of Missouri over how incidents of racism had been handled there. Those protests included the Tiger football team and coaches refusing to participate in any team activities until the University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resigned, which he did in November.
Since then, two state lawmakers have proposed that student athletes” scholarships be revoked if they refuse to participate in their programs. Other legislative proposals have called for mandatory classes on free speech for all students, and some legislative leaders have said funding for the University could be cut, or at least how it uses its money will be closely looked at.
Nixon responded to a letter by some state lawmakers calling for the firing of Assistant Professor Melissa Click – who was seen on video calling for “some muscle” to keep reporters away from student protesters – saying he would not “micromanage” the University. He added, however, that “if people are upset” over Click’s actions he is “ok with that.”
“I can understand why that’s completely unacceptable behavior on the part of a faculty member, especially in communications,” Nixon told reporters earlier this month.
Nixon could use part of his address to reflect on what has happened in the last few months on the MU campus, and on the larger issue of racism.
Most lawmakers, elected officials, and others in Missouri politics seem to agree that Missouri needs more money for its roads and bridges. From there the conversation becomes murkier. How to fund transportation is the question.
Voters two years ago rejected a sales tax increase to fund transportation. The most common criticism of that proposal was that it was too broad. It would have paid not only for roads and bridges, but things like infrastructure to support bicycling and pedestrians.
Last year a proposal to increase the state’s gas tax from 17-cents per gallon to 23-cents over several years was changed to a one-time, 2-cent increase, but that died in the Senate due to a combination of time constraints and opposition. Several lawmakers and the governor support a fuel tax hike this year, but as mentioned above, House Republican leadership doesn’t favor such an increase.
“As a legislature we’re pretty committed to holding the line on taxes. It’s something that most of us have campaigned on and most of us intend on fulfilling that campaign promise,” Speaker Richardson told Missourinet in December. “We have a $27-billion budget and we have the ability to do some things within the budget to make that a priority.
Nixon, on the other hand, says looking in the budget is the wrong approach.
“Taking money out of our schools to fund our roads is not the way to do this. Everybody knows that, and everybody knows that’s not going to ultimately pass,” Nixon told reporters earlier this month. “It’s an excuse not to step forward and look at what we need to do, which is have meaningful, additional dollars to put in our roads.”
Other Republicans, such as Senator Kehoe, have accused Nixon of being, “very silent on what to do to address our transportation needs,” and say they want him to lay out a plan in his address tonight.
“Now I know just in the last couple of days he’s endorsed a plan, but for the first seven years he’s been here it’s been crickets,” Kehoe continued. “And certainly other states who have addressed their transportation issues and have found different funding mechanisms, they’ve had he governor out leading the way.”