Gov. Nixon delivered an upbeat State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature even with the backdrop of a lingering recession.

AUDIO: Gov. Nixon’s address and response by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder

Nixon commended the legislature for working in a bipartisan manner to balance the budget and approved economic development initiatives.

“By balancing the budget without raising taxes, making hard choices and managing debt, Missouri is in a strong position to accelerate out of this downturn,” Nixon stated.

The governor focused on the economy by outlining his 2010 Jobs Plan, which includes three main aspects that the governor unveiled during various stops late last year. Missouri First will reward long-time Missouri businesses in efforts to expand and create jobs. The Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act, MOSIRA, will reinvest a portion of the taxes paid by existing bio-tech firms to recruit news ones. Training for Tomorrow will funnel job training dollars into community colleges to train students for jobs such as lab techs, nursing aides and mechanics.

Nixon unveiled a new program called “Show-Me Heroes”, targeting veterans.

“I’m asking every employer in this state to step up and show that Missouri hires its veterans,” Nixon said.

The governor also called for the elimination of the state income tax on military pensions.

Nixon called for a crack-down on payday loan companies, calling them “a voracious predator”.

“Hard times are like fertilizer for payday lenders; they just pop up overnight, like mushrooms,” said Nixon who claimed that the average payday loan in Missouri was $290 at 430% interest.

Nixon pointed out that budget projections predict that while state tax revenue will grow slightly during the next fiscal year, state revenue will be lower than it was in Fiscal Year 2009. Nixon will propose an $18 million increase in funding for public schools, topping $3 billion total for the first time. Nixon asked lawmakers to support him in advocating a tuition freeze at the state’s colleges for the second year in a row.

Little of the speech from Nixon, a Democrat, directly challenged the legislature, which is led by Republicans. Nixon indirectly criticized the House for failing to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 35,000 Missourians. The plan, backed by the Senate, would have instituted a tax on hospitals which would have allowed the state to draw down federal funding. The House rejected the idea.

Republicans murmured when Nixon suggested that it is the job of the state legislature to maximize any benefits that might come Missouri’s way from passage in Congress of a federal health care overhaul bill. He received a warm response from his call to require insurance companies to cover autism.

“Children with autism shouldn’t have to wait for their parents to come up with the cash, or for insurance companies to grow a conscience,” according to Nixon. “They need our help now.”

Nixon called for the creation of the Missouri State Parks Youth Corps to put youth to work at the state’s 85 parks and historic sites. Nixon envisions a Parks Youth Corps that picks up trash, cuts brush and builds trails whose members can become outdoor ambassadors to reverse a 10-year decline in the number of visitors to state parks.

Republicans also have Nixon a cool reception when the governor discussed ethics. Nixon insisted that strict limits on campaign contributions must be a part of any ethics bill, a point Republicans reject.