Nixon touts jobs, education in State of the State

The governor also wants to offer companies incentives to hire more.
Gov. Jay Nixon gives his State of the State Address on Wednesday night in the Missouri House chambers. In light of Missouri's $261 million budget deficit and 9.5 percent unemployment rate, Nixon's speech focused on proposing plans to expand job training and cuts to the budget.

JEFFERSON CITY — With Missouri facing an unemployment rate slightly less than the national average, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a plan to create more high-tech jobs and defended his spending on higher education in his State of the State address Wednesday night.

Nixon called for the legislature to increase training for high-tech jobs and offer incentives to existing companies to encourage them to expand their payrolls.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said she supported the governor's job creation programs because creating new jobs will also help the state close its budget deficit.

"Creating jobs is very important because once you've got income coming in, you've also got income tax revenue coming in," Still said.

Nixon also called for the legislature to expand the state's A+ Schools Program, which awards scholarships for two-year degrees at community colleges and technical schools to students who maintain a 3.0 grade point average and complete community service hours.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Nixon pitched such a plan, called the Missouri Promise, and Thursday he noted one-third of the state's public high school students are ineligible because their high schools are not officially designated as A+ schools.

"That's just not fair," Nixon said. "A+ scholarships should be open to every hard-working public high school student in Missouri."

The governor defended the in-state tuition freeze he announced in November as an economic stimulator. Nixon and the state's public universities reached a deal under which tuition for in-state students would remain at 2007 levels if the governor proposed to limit higher education cuts to about 5 percent.

He said giving students access to affordable education would give the state an advantage in the economic recovery.

"Our commitment to education must extend beyond high school," Nixon said. "But for too long steep tuition hikes have put college out of reach for many Missouri families."

Nixon did call for cuts in other parts of the budget to avoid raising taxes, but he did not specify where the cuts should come from. The state is also facing a $261 million budget deficit, and Nixon said state revenue would be lower this year.

That deficit remains after the governor announced nearly $200 million worth of cuts in October. Those cuts resulted in about 700 lost state employee jobs, but at the time, he said the cuts were aimed at protecting private sector jobs and education.

Still also said she expected the legislature to find places for fiscal cuts. She said Missouri is ranked No. 47 in the nation in per capita tax revenue, and she said the state would only be able to balance its budget by spending less.

"When you're 47th in the nation, you've got to see those cuts coming," Still said.

In his rebuttal, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, criticized Nixon for proposing more government programs and using federal stimulus money to close the state's budget gap, saying the state has already spent 80 percent of federal stimulus funds.

"Tonight, just like Washington politicians, Gov. Nixon called for several new government programs," Kinder said. "But each of these new programs will cost money, money that we do not have."

Kinder also accused the governor of withholding taxpayer refunds last year so the state would have cash to pay its bills. He said the governor was callous to the increasing federal debt, citing a quote Nixon gave during a February interview with C-SPAN as Republicans were calling for him to refuse the federal money.

"If there's debt, Missouri kids and grandkids will pay that debt off," Nixon said in the video.

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