Nixon touts high-tech jobs, tuition freeze in State of the State

The governor also addressed giving incentives to existing Missouri companies.

JEFFERSON CITY -- With Missouri facing an unemployment rate just less than the national average, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a plan to create more high-tech jobs in his annual State of the State address Wednesday night.

Nixon said his plan, aimed at increasing state support for job training and creating employment with high-tech companies, is critical to helping the state weather the economic downturn and its multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

“Everywhere I’ve traveled in the last 12 months, from Kansas City to Cape Girardeau, I’ve heard the same refrain from business large and small, ‘Give us the tools, help us train the workers and we’ll do the rest,’” Nixon said.

Missouri’s unemployment rate as of November was 9.5 percent, slightly less than the national average of 10 percent. Nixon said one part of his plan, the Missouri First initiative, would give 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 proposed a 20 percent increase in funding for high-tech job training programs and property tax relief for new homebuyers and homeowners who make their houses more energy efficient.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he supported the governor’s job creation plan but would have also liked to see the governor call for passage of a bill creating bonds for building construction on public universities.

“The most important thing we could do to increase jobs is passing the bonding issue,” Kelly said.

Nixon also called for the legislature to pass reforms of the payday loan industry in 2010, a cause Still had championed by holding a mock legislative hearing with five other Democrats when House Republicans did not put her bill on the legislative calendar.

“Hard times are fertilizer for payday lenders,” Nixon said. “They just pop up everywhere overnight like mushrooms.”

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.

The tuition freeze was announced weeks after the governor proposed cuts to the budgets of several state departments by up to 25 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 will 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.

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