Sen. Hegeman’s Column for the Week of April 5: Improving Missouri’s Digital Infrastructure

Government should have a limited role in our lives. My time in the Legislature has shown me this limited role can be a good thing, too. State government has, in my opinion, a responsibility to its most vulnerable populations. For many people, this means different things. To me, it not only includes children and the elderly, but it also means keeping the infrastructure systems that people rely on in top condition.

As we have learned over the past year, most of the world operates on computers. This has translated into having the ability to access the world through the touch of a button on one’s laptop or phone. Over the years, I have worked to try and get every corner of our state access to high-speed broadband. Unfortunately, there are still too many areas using dialup Internet. To me, this is unacceptable, and does not take into account those places where there is no coverage whatsoever. Admittedly, it is nice to “get off the grid” now and again, but our daily way of living requires up-to-date technology.

By the same token, some of the providers of these services are much further along. Sadly, our state has some of the oldest operating systems still in place, in departments such as the Missouri Department of Revenue. Some of the systems in use today date back to the 1970s or early 80s. It has become nearly impossible to service these computer programs, because no one remembers how to use the old Cobalt systems. Yet, we are still using them, mainly because of the costs associated with upgrading and replacing these outdated programs. Fortunately, we started to replace these systems before the coronavirus pandemic struck, and we hope to continue this year.

A lot of these updates come down to cost. As chair of the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee, I want to assure you we are watching every dollar. State law requires us to have a balanced budget, and we do. I believe we treat the taxpayers’ money better than we do our own, because it is imperative we keep critical services running for those who need them the most and do as much as possible on as little as possible. It is the Missouri way, and a great way to do business.