Gov. Mike Parson gave the big speech Wednesday afternoon.
In his second annual address to the legislature, the Republican from Bolivar said the state of the state is strong and that it can be even better with some work on things like violent crime and teacher pay.
Here are four things that stood out.
1. Good news and big numbers
As politicians tend to do, Parson kicked things off talking up his successes.
He said the state has added 40,000 jobs to its economy since he took office and watched the unemployment rate drop to historic lows.
He also listed companies moving to Missouri or investing a lot of money here.
He mentioned, for instance, Aurora Organic Dairy opening a new processing plant in Columbia and creating more than 100 new jobs. He also mentioned General Motors, which is set to receive $50 million in tax breaks to invest more than $1 billion in its Wentzville factory.
Democrats brought up a University of Missouri analysis showing the state economy has lagged behind its neighbors since the recession, but that came later.
“This is just the beginning,” Parson said, “and these successes will help us build further momentum.”
Parson also gave a shout-out to state employees, who received 3 percent raises in last year’s budget. Most are set to get another 2 percent in Parson’s new budget.
2. Gun violence
Then it was time to talk about gun violence, which has been a scourge in the state’s four largest cities in recent years.
St. Louis alone logged 194 murders in 2019. Kansas City notched 119. And even in Springfield, where murders are relatively few, police are concerned about a rise in gun-related crimes.
Despite those numbers, Parson has to walk a fine line with lawmakers dead-set against anything they think violates the Second Amendment.
“Let me be clear,” he told them Wednesday. “I have never wavered in my support for the Second Amendment.”
“But,” he continued, “we all have to understand the very real issue of violent crime affecting our neighborhoods and the potential consequence of doing nothing.”
With that, he referenced plans he made with the mayors of Springfield, St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia to:better protect crime victims and witnesses
increase mental health resources and services
"keep guns away from violent criminals"
Gun violence experts generally like those ideas, though their impact will likely be limited.
It's also not clear whether the Legislature sees a need for proposed laws aimed at keeping guns from kids, domestic abusers, and violent criminals.
Before the speech, Parson’s staff provided reporters with a budget summary including $1 million for witness protection.
Springfield Mayor Ken McClure has said it’s around $10,000 per year right now.
3. Medicaid expansion = ‘massive tax increase’
Parson also talked about something he doesn’t like: Medicaid expansion.
A campaign to put the issue on the ballot this year is well underway, and if it succeeds, people who meet certain criteria — single people making less than $18,000 a year, for example — could become eligible for state coverage.
The idea is to help people who make too much to qualify for Medicaid at current levels and too little to afford private health insurance.
The federal government would foot 90 percent of the bill if the state covers the rest.
But Parson said Missouri can’t afford that without cuts to education and infrastructure.
“Make no mistake about it,” Parson said. “the vague proposal they are not explaining or purposely withholding is a massive tax increase that Missourians cannot afford.”
Some analysts disagree on this point.
A report from the Center for Health Economics and Policy at Washington University in St. Louis suggests the expansion could save the state $932 million by 2024 and could drive down costs by helping patients address problems before they become expensive emergencies.
A separate state analysis said the state government could expect an impact ranging from at least $200 million in increased costs to savings of $1 billion by 2026.
4. Teacher pay
Parson also briefly mentioned something near and dear to educators across the state: improving teacher pay.
It’s a hot topic right now.
National Education Association data ranked Missouri 40th out of 50 states in average teacher pay in 2017-2018, and the state agency in charge of K-12 education has come up with multiple plans to change that this year.
One would make it so every teacher in Missouri receives a salary of at least $32,000, a move that would help roughly 2,300 of the state's 70,000 teachers and cost about $4.4 million per year. Others would boost all salaries and cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Parson didn’t mention any specific plan and said “the solution cannot just be asking the state to write a bigger check.”
Education: 95% of SPS teachers are white, most are female
Instead, he said his administration is “going to ask school districts, school boards and (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) to propose a better plan for our teachers.”
Education commissioner Margie Vandeven echoed that sentiment in a separate interview.
She said the department has no set number for any raises yet, but pointedly noted that the minimum salary for teachers — currently $25,000 — hasn't moved in 14 years.