Education, health care big winners in Parson’s State of the State address
By Raymore Journal staff
Thanks to a massive injection of federal funding, Gov. Mike Parson has a record-breaking amount of money to disburse throughout Missouri, making room for a minor tax cut and higher wages for state employees and teachers.
During his State of the State address, Parson touted his plans for a nearly $47 billion budget for fiscal year 2023, the largest budget in state history. Pandemic-related federal funding is adding more than $10 billion to Missouri’s budget compared to federal funding in previous years.
The governor also wants to lower the income tax rate from 5.4% to 5.3% for most Missourians. No other tax cuts are being proposed despite the influx of money. Instead, Parson is playing it more conservatively by setting aside an additional 2.5% of general revenue to “achieve financial stability when the rainy days come.”
Some Missouri workers may see a bigger paycheck.
To recruit and retain topnotch workers, Parson is proposing a 5.5% cost of living adjustment for all state employees.
Parson also wants to permanently establish the Fast Track program. According to the Department of Higher Education and Workplace Development, the Fast Track Workforce Incentive Grant is a financial aid program that addresses workforce needs by encouraging adults to pursue a certificate, degree, or industry-recognized credential in an area designated as high need. The Cass Career Center offers EMT, firefighter and nursing certificates through the program.
With nearly $3.5 billion in additional federal funding, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is getting a significant boost.
To start, the governor wants the General Assembly to pass legislation that will increase the baseline salary for new teachers to $38,000. According to the National Education Association, Missouri’s average starting salary for teachers is less than $33,000, the worst in the nation. Missouri is ranked 45th for average salary among all teachers. Compared to other professionals with the same education and years of experience, Missouri educators experience a pay gap of 76 cents on the dollar.
Parson is also proposing $31 million for MoExcels Workforce Initiative, a $10 million increase. MoExcels gives funding to colleges and universities to facilitate development and expansion of employer-driven education and training programs and initiatives to substantially increase educational attainment. Another $20 million in grant funding will go towards the state’s 57 area career centers.
Health care and social services
Other departments receiving a significant increase in federal funding include Mental Health, Health and Senior Services, and Social Services.
The governor is requesting $34 million to increase telehealth and telemedicine services in rural communities and the construction of a new multi-agency health lab.
Nearly $1 billion in Parson’s budget is for health care provider rates. Specifically, $411 million for providers of developmental disability services, $10 million for providers of behavioral health services, $318 million for home- and community-based service providers, and $216 million to rebase nursing facility rates.
More than $4 million will more than double the capacity at Missouri’s six autism centers.
For $30 million, the governor proposes implementing the 988 Crisis Hotline to serve as the emergency hotline for mental health crises by increasing capacity at the seven regional crisis call centers and 45 crisis mobile teams throughout the state.
Parson also wants to spend nearly $3 million to expand care and treatment for people who are found by courts to be unable to proceed to trial.
In the Department of Social Services, the Children’s and MO HealthNet Divisions will receive significant increases. The state’s total Medicaid budget will increase by more than $2.5 billion thanks to a $2 billion increase in federal funding.
At $400 million, Parson wants major broadband expansion projects across the state, the largest broadband investment in state history, the majority of which is coming from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). According to the governor’s office, the investment will connect 75,000 households, expand access to rural areas and underserved urban areas, and update and expand wireless networks across the state.
Another $450 million will go toward water and sewer infrastructure. Of the nearly $3 billion in ARPA funds, 28% will be used for broadband and water/wastewater infrastructure or more than $800 million.
At the top of the State of the State address, Parson applauded the state’s efforts addressing the COVID-19 pandemic despite news cases in Missouri at its highest.
Specifically, Parson is drawing attention to the fact that more than 94% of Missourians 65 and older have received protection from the virus. Nearly 75% of Missourians 18 and older have received a vaccine.
Nationwide, more than 87% of Americans 18 and older have at least one dose of a vaccines. Only 64% of Missouri adults are fully vaccinated, compared with nearly 75% of all American adults. For most of January, Missouri’s seven-day moving average of new deaths per 100,000 people has been well above the national average.
Parson shifted his focus to the economy. The governor praised the state’s economic recovery and success. Parson attributed this success to his decision not to implement mandates and being one of the first governors to cut off federal unemployment benefits.
Although Democrats are picking apart Parson’s State of the State address, they are also applauding several of the governor’s plans.
During the address, Parson was careful not to give the Democratic White House any credit for the large increase in funding. In a prepared response to The Raymore Journal, Cass Democratic Central Committee Chair Patty Johnson was quick to point that out.
“A proposal to use $450 million in federal aid for wastewater improvements, safer drinking water and enhancements to storm water systems is welcome and needed,” Johnson said. “But again, this is money that was not available as a result of anything the governor or Missouri Republicans have done and that fact was conspicuously left out. Republicans are attempting to take credit for something they did not do as a way to obfuscate the fact they fought the stimulus every step of the way.”
Democrats are also criticizing the governor’s portrayal of the current situation regarding COVID-19. While Parson is taking pride in his lack of mandates throughout the pandemic, schools throughout are considering closing their doors once again as new cases reach an all-time high.
“Try as you might, it is impossible to point to something this administration has done to help the federal response to the pandemic in 2021 along the way leaving Missourians frustrated and more at risk than we should be.,” Johnson said.
However, Johnson points out that Parson enjoyed more audible support from Democrats on more than one occasion than Republicans in the General Assembly during the address. Although Democrats believe increasing teachers’ base salary to $38,000 is not enough, they do applaud the decision, calling it a step in the right direction.
“Missourians want and need to be told the truth. We need responsive and responsible government. Governor Parson’s budget proposals are a step in the right direction for pressing issues in Missouri. There is still much to be done to make life better for all Missourians. Our elected officials should not try to make it harder for citizens to obtain information about what those officials are doing while working for us. Real transparency in government is what is required.”