Parson delivers final State of the State address joint session

By Dmitry Martirosov, Missouri news network
Posted 1/31/24

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson delivered his final State of the State address Jan. 17 with education, workforce development and infrastructure among key priorities as he unveiled a record …

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Parson delivers final State of the State address joint session


JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson delivered his final State of the State address Jan. 17 with education, workforce development and infrastructure among key priorities as he unveiled a record $52.7 billion budget plan.

The governor’s proposed budget would add more than $120 million for K-12 education, bringing the total base funding for public education to $3.7 billion.

“And I’ll note,” Parson told a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly, “that’s all state funding, not the federal government.”

Alluding to the school choice debate, Parson said he doesn’t care where Missourians get quality education “just as long as they get one.”

Republican leaders in the legislature have made expanding school choice a priority this year, and several bills have already had committee hearings.

Parson is also looking to increase teachers’ baseline salary by investing an additional $4 million to enhance recruitment and retention, bringing teacher salaries to $40,000 for the fiscal year 2025, up from $38,000 the previous year.

At the beginning of his speech, the governor harkened back to last year’s State of the State address. “As we laid out bold and historic proposals, I declared that this governor, this dad and this gramps is not done yet,” Parson said.

“But in all seriousness, I’ll be leaving here with my head held high,” said Parson, who will step down after this year due to term limits. He spent as much time talking about what he sees as accomplishments as he did laying out proposals for the year ahead.

Improvements to infrastructure would include investments in state roads, highways and bridges, in addition to widening broadband access.

Parson is proposing a $1.5 billion investment in broadband infrastructure, with a focus on underserved communities. The $1.5 billion would add to a total of nearly $2 billion in the state’s broadband investment.

“We believe that in the next five years, the digital divide in Missouri will be closed once and for all,” Parson said.

The governor also announced a $92.8 million federal grant the state received for Interstate 70 projects, with construction in Columbia beginning in the summer.

“And from there, well, let’s just say there is ‘No Turnin’ Back,’” Parson said, using one of his catch phrases.

Parson gave a nod to Missouri Department of Transportation employees — a group that sat at the upper gallery of the House chamber, where the speech was held — who received a standing ovation from the entire General Assembly.

The governor is also proposing a $290 million investment to go toward highway and bridge construction and $14 million toward investments to Interstate 44. MoDOT already has $150 million saved for Interstate 44, according to MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna.

During a briefing before the governor’s speech, McKenna said once contracts are signed, plans will become clearer.

“And then that’ll take us where it takes us,” McKenna said. “It’ll tell us what we will need to do on that corridor to improve it, to mitigate congestion, to encourage growth in the freight volume that’s happening on that corridor and to improve its safety.”

Generally, the mood in the House chamber was cheerful throughout the speech. Then Parson mentioned abortion.

“When I came to Jefferson City, nearly 8,000 elective abortions were performed annually in Missouri,” Parson said. “As I stand before you today, I’m proud to report that number is zero.”

Almost on cue, Republicans rose up and cheered for the governor while Democrats remained in their seats. Although that brief moment soured the mood, it was the only one during Parson’s speech, which received continuous applause from both Democrats and Republicans.

Another one of Parson’s priorities is to improve Missouri’s workforce by enhancing child care services. Parson said this year he backs efforts to establish three new child care tax credit programs.

“These programs will help improve access and affordability for families seeking child care across the state of Missouri,” he said. The governor is proposing nearly $52 million toward child care subsidy programs.

House Democrats praised Parson’s initiative to improve access to child care services.

“We’re glad the governor understands that ensuring parents have safe and affordable child care options is vital for those parents to be able to work, provide for their families and help grow our economy,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, who is running to replace Parson.

Quade also praised Parson’s other initiatives, including funding for education, teacher pay increase and broadband infrastructure.

“There are a lot of things that the governor highlighted today that we were very excited about,” Quade said, adding Democrats want to see bills on these issues make their way to Parson’s desk.

“We’ll do our part to make that happen,” she said.

But Quade then turned to criticism, noting it was “interesting” Parson didn’t mention Republicans’ efforts to reform the ballot initiative process.

“If we’re going to talk about people first, then they should have a voice at the ballot,” Quade said, jabbing at the governor’s theme for his address — “Putting People First.”

Quade said she isn’t too hopeful about making any progress in the current session.

“Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the prospects are good for much of anything important going to the legislature this year,” Quade said. “That’s because, just like Republicans in (Washington) D.C., Republicans in Jeff City constantly prove incapable of governing.”

“And that’s a terrible shame,” she added.

During the speech, Parson reiterated again and again that it’s all about putting people first.

“With faith, family, and freedom at the forefront, honoring the Constitution and leading with the ideas of the Declaration of Independence, putting people first, that’s what leadership has been to us,” Parson said, as he concluded his final State of the State speech as the 57th governor of Missouri.