Investing in Infrastructure
One of the most anticipated events of the legislative session is the governor’s State of the State address. This week, the General Assembly gathered in a joint session to hear the governor present his legislative priorities and budget requests for the coming year. Consistent with his previous speeches, the governor emphasized workforce development and infrastructure investment. Based on the economic news presented to the Legislature, it’s clear this emphasis is paying dividends. The governor reported the state’s unemployment rate has fallen to pre-pandemic levels, and Missourians can expect to receive another tax cut this year due to strong revenues for the state.
In addition to increased revenues here at home, Missouri will receive an unprecedented influx of federal money tied to pandemic relief programs and the infrastructure bill recently passed by Congress. In laying out his spending priorities for Fiscal Year 2023, the governor wisely avoided creating new programs that would require on-going appropriations. Instead, he asked the Legislature to invest the federal money in infrastructure and other one-time expenditures.
Among the proposals included in the governor’s budget is $75 million to continue a transportation cost-share program that leverages local money with state funding to improve roads and bridges around our state. He also called for an additional $100 million for improvements to low-volume routes. That’s welcome news for the 33rd Senatorial District as it describes many of the roads in our part of the state.
Infrastructure means much more than just roads and bridges. A huge need in rural areas is access to affordable high-speed internet, and the governor announced more funding for broadband expansion. The pandemic has showed the importance of a robust broadband network, as rural school kids struggled with poor internet connections and the promise of telemedicine hit a brick wall of dial-up and spotty Wi-Fi. Improving our broadband capability will be a huge economic driver for rural areas, bringing educational and health care opportunities and allowing small businesses outside of urban areas to compete worldwide. Far more than a way to log onto Netflix or watch the Chiefs game on our phones, broadband has become an essential part of modern life, but one that rural people have too often been denied. That needs to change, and the governor’s plan to invest $400 million in broadband expansion is a good start.
Another vital part of Missouri’s infrastructure is our people. Our state is strategically located in the center of the nation, and we are blessed with a good transportation network, but employers won’t come here if they can’t find skilled workers. During my time in the Legislature, I’ve been a champion for workforce development efforts and providing the human resources needed to build our economic infrastructure. That can happen in a multitude of ways — whether that’s giving our higher education institutions the resources they need to train the workers of tomorrow, or providing businesses incentives to develop their existing employees. I was thrilled to hear the governor sing the praises of the Missouri One Start program, which offers employers a range of services, ranging from pre-employment screening, to recruitment assistance to job-specific training. In the past three years, this program has benefited more than 76,000 Missouri workers. As good as the Missouri One Start program is, there is room for improvement, and I have offered Senate Bill 1072 to better tailor the program to the needs of employers.
As the governor so aptly presented during his State of the State address, Missouri is on the right track. Our economy is strong, and with the right investment in our people, schools and industries, we make it even stronger.
It is my honor to serve the residents of Douglas, Howell, Oregon, Ozark, Ripley, Texas, Webster and Wright counties in the Missouri Senate, and it’s always a pleasure to hear from friends and family back home. If I can help you in any way, please call my Capitol Office at 573-751-1882, or my District Office at 417-596-9011. You can also visit my webpage at www.senate.mo.gov/mem33, on Facebook: @SenatorKarlaEslinger, or follow me on Twitter: @seneslingermo.