The State of the State
The governor delivered his annual State of the State address to the Legislature this week. Traditionally, governors use this speech as an opportunity to highlight accomplishments from the prior year and set forward priorities for the year to come. This year’s address was no exception, as the governor proudly boasted of strong performance in Missouri’s economy over the past 12 months. Despite the on-going pandemic, our state has done well. Our unemployment rate is at 3.5%, lower than the national average and actually below the pre-pandemic level. Just 21,000 Missourians are currently receiving unemployment benefits, compared to more than 115,000 during the peak of the COVID-19 downturn. Incredibly, our state’s workforce grew during the pandemic.
Part of this success is due to economic and tax policies that make Missouri an attractive place to locate and grow a business. The governor listed a number of businesses that moved to our state or expanded their footprint in the past year, and also shared great news about increased investment and job growth. It was likely a surprise to no one when the governor called for continued emphasis on workforce and infrastructure development.
Much has been made about the unprecedented flow of federal funding into the states in response to the pandemic, and now through the infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress. I was pleased that as the governor laid out his budget for 2023, he was mindful that this money would not last forever. His spending proposals primarily focused on one-time investments in infrastructure, and not programs that would require on-going funding. It’s critical that we avoid the temptation to start permanent programs with temporary funds, knowing that we would have to pick up the tab ourselves later on.
As chairman of the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee, I welcomed the governor’s request to continue Missouri’s transportation cost-share program, with $75 million budgeted to partner with local communities in funding road and bridge projects. He also called for $100 million for low-volume route miles across the state. These are precisely the sorts of roads that are typical in the 16th Senatorial District. The governor also announced increased funding for broadband infrastructure, both in rural as well as underserved urban areas. On the public safety front, the governor vowed his administration would “defend law enforcement, not defund them,” and backed that up with specific proposals, including modernization of the state’s emergency response and dispatching system and increased funding for crisis counseling for police officers. He also called for increased funding for Missouri’s veterans homes, including the facility at St. James.
With strong revenue, the governor said it was time to finally address some areas where Missouri has fallen behind. He called for higher wages for state employees and Missouri’s school teachers, which he said are the worst paid in the nation. He also requested funding for capital improvement projects at Missouri’s colleges and universities. The governor was careful not to spend every dime, however. He asked the Legislature to set aside 2.5% of state revenue to a cash operating fund to maintain stability when budget declines occur in the future. He also proposed using some of the federal money to accelerate payments on outstanding bond obligations and build reserves in the state employee retirement system to decrease future costs. Finally, he announced a tax cut, with Missourians’ state income tax falling for the second time during his administration.
Given extraordinarily robust revenues, I thought the governor’s proposed budget reflected prudent, conservative stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I look forward to reviewing his ideas in the coming months as the Legislature finalizes the state budget.
It’s my honor to serve as your senator for the 16th District. If you have questions or need any assistance, please call my office at 573-751-5713 or log onto my webpage at https://www.senate.mo.gov/brown for more information.