Governor Jay Nixon (D) will deliver tonight the penultimate State of the State Address of his two terms. In it he’ll present his policy and spending priorities for the legislative session and the year, and today legislators will get his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. You’ll be able to watch the State of the State, the Republican response, and post-address reactions at Missourinet.com, in conjunction with KMIZ TV, beginning at 6:45 tonight.
There are many things the governor is likely to talk about, such as the staples of education, job creation, and economic development. Here, we offer some background on some of the other things one might listen for during the speech:
1) How the Governor addresses Ferguson
The Governor must address the single biggest issue in Missouri of the past year. Nixon has received criticism from multiple fronts for his, and his administration’s, response to unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown, Junior, by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. A joint state legislative committee is investigating the state response on the night the grand jury decision not to indict Wilson was announced.
Nixon stands by how he and his administration have responded, but his critics–some within his own party–remain vocal. One thing he might do is reiterate the call he and others have made for the U.S. Justice Department to release the results of its investigations into the Michael Brown shooting, which some see as necessary for the community of Ferguson to at last move on.
Nixon has often talked in past State of the State addresses about how Missouri and her citizens have responded to adversity, but the sensitivity of the issue and its relation to his office means great delicacy is required. There is also a great deal of legislation stemming from Ferguson he could speak about, such as a bill to require the appointment of a special prosecutor in all officer-involved shootings or one that would abolish the grand jury system.
It’s also possible that protestors will seek to make their voices heard during the State of the State Address, much as they did the opening day of the legislative session two weeks ago.
2) Whether he will propose a transportation infrastructure funding plan
Nixon asked for, and received, a report from the state Transportation Department on whether making I-70 a toll road is feasible. He hasn’t said whether he will call for that, or any other, transportation funding plan, leaving some believing that he’ll lay one out during the State of the State. The Transportation Department, meanwhile, has outlined it’s “Tough Choices Ahead” plan, telling Missourians it will only perform regular maintenance on about a quarter of Missouri’s roads under the funding level projected for 2017.
Members and leaders of the Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate maintain that a tolling proposal won’t clear the legislature. Some of them also blame the governor for the sound defeat of a transportation tax proposal in 2014, saying it failed because he opted to put it on the August primary ballot. They say, then, that he needs to step up with a plan of his own.
3) Can Missouri keep the Rams in St. Louis?
Signs point to “no,” with many believing that Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke is well on the path toward taking the team to Los Angeles, assuming NFL owners don’t interfere.
A task force appointed by Nixon has laid out its plan for a new stadium in St. Louis, and Nixon has said, “there is a value to being an NFL City.” Still, state lawmakers have expressed resistance to involving taxpayer dollars in that effort.
Nixon might use the opportunity presented by the Address to push for some effort to keep the team in the Gateway city.
4) Tone toward Republicans
In his 2014 State of the State Address Nixon included some tough language regarding the positions of a Republican supermajority on Medicaid expansion; teacher pay, benefits and tenure; and tax reform. After November’s elections he faces even larger Republican supermajorities in both state legislative chambers.
The President of the Senate, Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles), has said he’s encouraged by a tone of greater cooperation and communication from Nixon leading into this session. That could be, or not be, reflected in Nixon’s address tonight.
5) Medicaid expansion
Republicans in the state Senate, like those in the House, continue to oppose Medicaid expansion, with one of their newest members saying he will, “do everything,” he can to prevent it.
That doesn’t mean Governor Nixon has given up on the idea, however, recently telling reporters that it isn’t a lost cause and that a “cavalcade of states” with Republican governors and legislatures have moved forward on Medicaid, which he calls a significant change from last year.
He’s not alone in supporting expansion of Medicaid eligibility either, with the latest proposal being targeted at veterans, though the opponents seem to far outnumber the proponents.