JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Instead of proposing budget cuts in his annual state of the state address, Gov. Mike Parson wants lawmakers to raise salaries, spend more money on education and invest in childcare.
In the governor’s nearly hour-long speech, he praised the state’s approach to the pandemic, saying Missouri’s economy is strong. The state has a historic amount of money at its disposal, and the multi-billion dollar budget includes raising teachers’ salaries.
“We have the opportunity to make fundamental improvements to our state that will serve Missourians now and in the future,” Parson said. “None of this would have been possible without the efforts of the state government to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19.”
Parson praised the state’s surplus money for Missouri’s COVID response, saying leaders made tough decisions but never backed down.
“That’s why we’ve never had state mandates or forced businesses or schools or churches to close,” Parson said. “We have protected lives and livelihoods.”
Over the past week, Missouri has reported more than 62,000 new COVID cases, or about 9,000 new cases per day.
“When it comes to the fight against the pandemic, the governor’s hands-off approach continues to exact a heavy toll with new cases breaking records almost daily,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade told reporters. D-Springfield, after the speech. “Reality is forcing many schools to consider closing as student and teacher absences soar.”
Quade’s own children were inside the Capitol on Wednesday after the Springfield Public School District, the state’s largest, closed for the rest of the week due to the virus.
“Just like so many working parents are currently struggling day to day as schools continue to close,” Quade said.
Parson reiterated on Wednesday; his position will not change.
“We used common sense and took a balanced approach to the pandemic,” Parson said. “I strongly believe that the people should have a say through their local elected officials and not be dictated by unnecessary executive action or by one person.”
Another major element of his speech, the increase in the wages of state employees to 15 dollars an hour and the increase in the salary of teachers.
“Half of our new teachers leave the profession in their fifth year,” Parson said. “This is unacceptable and we need to do better.”
Missouri currently has the lowest starting salary in the nation, $25,000. Parson’s recommendation to lawmakers for approval, $38,000.
“By partnering with local school districts, we can increase the base salary for new teachers to $38,000 and take the first step to solving this problem,” Parson said.
When asked if this increase was enough, Quade replied that it had to be bigger.
“It’s been decades since teachers in Missouri received adequate pay raises and thus $38,000, while that’s a great start, it doesn’t make up for the loss we’ve had over the years,” said said Quade.
As for state employees, state budget director Dan Haug says there are 4,500 vacancies statewide with a turnover rate of 26 percent. It will cost Missouri $288 million to raise employee wages. There is also a $500 million investment in the MOSERS fund.
In the $46 billion budget, there is an incentive program for state employees to incest into their retirement savings. If workers save $25 per month, the state will match the contribution to the MOSERS deferred compensation program.
His proposal also includes funding to double the capacity of the state’s six autism centers. The $4.2 million will help reduce long waiting lists at the centres. Also in the health care category, Parson allocated $4.4 trillion federal dollars to help pay for personal protective equipment (PPE), staffing needs, testing and vaccinations.
Later this year, a new helpline will come into effect to help people struggling with a mental health crisis. In Missouri, the governor set aside $4.4 million to establish the new 988 hotlines.
The state also has nearly $3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to spend, which will go towards infrastructure such as increased broadband, the economy, such as expanding 57 state career centers, investment in higher education investment projects, building a public safety crime lab for the state and health care.
“While I disagree with the massive expansion of federal debt, the responsibility rests with us to invest wisely and make smart decisions,” Parson said. “We have to do what the federal government cannot do.
Quade said Democrats left the speech with hope because many budget items align with values of investing in people and the state.
“It was nice to hear that these things that we’ve been asking for for a very long time are going to be priorities this year,” Quade said.
Parson also recommends that higher education institutions increase their funding by 5% and invest more than $700 in child care, to help with workforce development. He said state unemployment was lower than before the pandemic at 3.3%.
Missourians will also get a 5.3% tax cut this year. All of these recommendations must be approved by lawmakers within the next four months.
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