On Wednesday evening, Governor Eric Greitens, R, will deliver his second State of the State address to the Missouri Legislature. The governor’s blueprint is expected to include unfinished Republican business from the 2017 legislative session. Greitens could stick to some of his favorite talking points during his speech:
•Bashing bureaucrats, the status quo, and special interests: When explaining his position on an issue, the outsider-turned-politician will often smear bureaucrats, “career politicians” and lobbyists. It’s part of the governor’s branding since the campaign trail and branding that has worked to his advantage on many occasions. Greitens seems to be using “career politicians” less since GOP lawmakers began criticizing him for saying the phrase. He might still pull the term out of his back pocket from time to time when he addresses an opposing viewpoint.
•Jobs: Since last year’s passage of a “Right-to-work” measure, it’s a natural next step for Republicans to keep the momentum going on further restrictions to labor policies. They could focus on changes to wage requirements for public construction projects and making union workers give annual written consent to have union dues taken from their paychecks.
•Helping Missouri’s law enforcement, military and veterans: Last year, Greitens launched a pilot program in St. Louis to have state patrol troopers work the interstates there to allow city police officers more time to focus on fighting violent crime. Missouri’s law enforcement continues to be overwhelmed with a diverse list of response calls, climbing violent crime rates and officer shortages.
The governor’s future plans could include expanding the pilot program in Kansas City and maybe even statewide.
Greitens has launched investigations into Missouri’s veterans homes. Residents of the St. Louis Veterans Home have complained about inadequate care – fueling several investigations last year of the facility.
Greitens, a Navy SEAL, wants members of the military to have the opportunity to continue using their military skills when they return home from a deployment. If a truck driver can dodge improvised explosive devices on the roads of Fallujah, Greitens thinks they can use those schools to drive a big wheeler from Kansas City to the Bootheel.
•Expanding educational opportunities for Missouri students
Greitens used some tricks up his sleeves last year to remove Margie Vandeven as Missouri’s education commissioner – sparking outrage among many members of the education community and some lawmakers. The governor is rumored to want a charter schools supporter from Atlanta serving at the helm. We could hear the governor cover things in his speech like expanding charter schools, increasing teacher pay, putting more money into classrooms, and creating educational savings accounts for students.
•Helping Missouri’s foster children: The governor and first lady have soft spots in their hearts for the 13,000 Missouri children in the foster care system and those awaiting adoption. The first dinner they hosted at the governor’s mansion was with a group of foster parents and they commonly post on social media about their own kids. First Lady Sheena Greitens, whose sister is adopted, has led the charge on different foster care initiatives.
•Changing Missouri’s tax structure: During last year’s State of the State Address, Greitens said insiders are gaming Missouri’s tax system and nearly $2 billion has benefitted “privileged insiders” since 2010. Last month, a state housing commission he leads voted to ditch $140 million in low-income housing tax credits. He’s advocated for a simple, fair and low tax structure and is likely to voice a similar message, especially since last month’s passage of a federal tax plan.
•Further changes to tort laws: Republicans have been passionate about reigning in on what they consider to be frivolous lawsuits against Missouri businesses. Greitens wants lawmakers to pass a bill that would protect private employers from being sued if they give preference to veterans in hiring and promotions. State Senator Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, wants to separate court plaintiffs by venue and prevent them from grouping their lawsuits together. He says the court system is being overburdened with such cases.
Other key issues many Missourians want to hear about:
• 2019 fiscal year state budget proposal: According to the governor’s spokesman, Parker Briden, Greitens will not unveil his budget recommendations on Wednesday. The release date and corresponding details are unknown. Last year, the freshman governor broke from tradition and did not release his spending plan during his State of the State speech. Instead, Greitens announced it two weeks later in southwest Missouri’s Nixa at a public school for special needs students.
How does the rest of this budget year look? According to House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, if state revenue remains on its current track, or even drops a little, freezing state money will not be in the picture. If there is a significant drop in revenue, further budget restrictions will be necessary.
•Increasing funding for Missouri’s roads and bridges: Support appears to be mounting among lawmakers to increase the state’s fuel tax to help pay for Missouri’s crippling infrastructure. The governor’s position on a gas tax hike is unknown and he could leave it up to the General Assembly to find a solution.
•Will the governor talk about the state’s number one industry? In the governor’s State of the State Address last year, he did not mention how to move agriculture forward in the Show-Me State. A study says about 375,000 jobs are tied to Missouri agriculture and tax revenues are more than $6 billion a year.
•Higher education: Balancing the state budget comes at an expense. In Greitens’ case, Misouri’s colleges and universities have taken a big financial hit and forced them to do a variety of things including find additional efficiencies, hold off on building new facilities, cut hundreds of jobs and increase tuition, room, board and other fees.
•Increasing state worker pay: Greitens brought up this issue during his State of the State Address last year. Missouri has the lowest paid state workers in the nation. For several years, lawmakers have discussed increasing state worker pay but budget troubles have gotten in the way of making a pay boost happen. Fitzpatrick, who has made a state employee pay hike a priority, hopes this will be the year the legislature is able to get one to the governor’s desk. The capital city has about 14,000 state workers – the largest employer by far.
The governor’s annual speech, which is meant to rally support for the governor’s agenda, might need to be extra inspiring if Greitens wants to get some of his priorities accomplished this year. The House is expected to stick to its fast-moving pace, but the Senate could render a sequel to last year’s gridlock that was slowed by members of the governor’s own party.
The education commissioner turmoil didn’t score points with some lawmakers – driving some, including Republican Senator Gary Romine of Farmington, to pledge to block the confirmation of the governor’s State Board of Education appointees. Romine serves as the Senate Education Committee chairman.
Senators Rob Schaaf, Bob Dixon and former Senator Ryan Silvey have called Greitens out on numerous occasions for pulling other political stunts that didn’t sit well with them. Schaaf has led the fight about the governor’s failure to disclose information involving who bankrolled Greitens’ inauguration ball and the creation of a PAC – A New Missouri – that does not have to reveal its donors. The governor’s PAC pushes his political agenda that has occasionally targeted the Senators.
Greitens is set to give his speech at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday. The Democratic response will follow.
Some of Missourinet’s radio affiliates will carry the address and response. Missourinet will also have further details about the speech and reaction on Thursday.