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Sunday, November 23, 2014

State of the State: Nixon budget to back education, health care expansion

The governor’s budget will earmark over half a billion additional funds for education alone.

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David Freyermuth/Graphic Designer

In his State of the State speech Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon said he knows there isn’t much he and Missouri lawmakers can agree on.

But that didn’t stop Nixon from expounding upon what he considered universal legislative goals: good schools and individual opportunity, both of which he said would be championed in his budget proposal.

That budget, Nixon said, will increase funding for all levels of education — “from preschool to graduate school” — by $493 million, providing, for example, for the expansion of early childhood education and a tuition freeze for state universities, including MU.

Within those new funds lie $278 million to be used exclusively on K-12 classrooms, which Nixon said would allow for more classroom technology, smaller class sizes and better-prepared teachers.

With the new funding, Nixon pushed for schools to offer tougher classes, achieve higher test scores and maintain higher graduation rates. By the end of the decade, he said, two-thirds of all jobs will require college credentials.

The governor echoed a recent proposal by Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, which would put into place a performance-based model for state fund disbursement to institutions of higher education. Additional core funding, Nixon said, will require schools to meet specific goals.

“Our students have to compete worldwide,” Nixon said, “and they’re going to have to raise their game.”

Nixon justified his proposed investment with the story of Frank Fontana, a St. Louis optometrist. Fontana served in the Army during World War II, fighting fascism in the European Theater, and came home to something that was, Nixon said, far more precious — and patriotic — than a ticker-tape parade: the GI Bill, the post-war measure that allowed former servicemen to attend four-year schools at no cost to them.

“The GI Bill gave Frank the opportunity to pursue his dreams, to support his family and become a great optometrist. I should know,” Nixon said. “He was mine.”

“We are excited that Gov. Nixon will be increasing funding for Bright Flight and higher education core funding for the University of Missouri System by $12 million,” said Ben Levin, president of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri. “We will be working hard in the coming months to make sure that legislators in Jefferson City know how important higher education is to the economic health of our state.”

Nixon’s budget will also provide for the $20 million training of over 1,200 mental health professionals and reauthorize the Missouri Rx Plan for low-income seniors’ prescriptions.

Among Nixon’s non-budgetary goals are the passage of an LGBTQ non-discrimination act, the bond-funded rebuilding of the crumbling Fulton State Hospital, a revamp of last year’s controversial redistricting of public schools and the reinstatement of strict campaign contribution limits.

Yet above all else, Nixon said, he supports the expansion of Medicaid in Missouri.

“Since New Year's Day, Missouri taxpayers have spent $115 million and counting — $5.47 million a day — to improve and reform health care in other states,” Nixon said.

Nixon said $2 billion — or $500 for every Missouri taxpayer — goes toward other states’ implementation of what Nixon called innovations, like rewarding patients for healthy lifestyle choices and penalizing them for missing doctors’ appointments.

“And each day we don't act, nearly 300,000 working Missourians go another day without the treatment they desperately need, for no other reason than they live in Branson instead of Bentonville, in Cape Girardeau instead of Cairo, in Maryville instead of Muscatine,” Nixon said.

Nixon went on to cite the problems with healthcare expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act to cheers from the Republican state legislators.

“But rejecting Medicaid won't fix any of those things,” Nixon said. “It won't keep Missourians from having to pay federal taxes, or exempt our businesses from new requirements under the law. Instead, by standing still, we're making the things we don't like about Obamacare even worse, forcing Missourians to bear all the costs of this law and reap none of the benefits.”

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