For the second time in his first term, Governor Matt Blunt announced his agenda for the 2006 Legislative Session. Daniel Frumson has more from the state capitol.
Rather than depicting a sagging economy riddled with social welfare spending in need of cuts, Governor Blunt announced a surplus to begin his State of the State Address. It was as if he had declared victory.
"Tonight, I am able to deliver a very different message... Our economy is now creating jobs for Missouri families. We've moved from a massive budget shortfall, to the first surplus in five years."
Blunt commended the state assembly for their work in last years session by for example, reforming workers compensation.
Blunt said that the changes made, like the medical malpractice reform, and what he calls tough choices of the 2005 session helped facilitate economic growth, as well as keeping jobs in Missouri.
"On average we've seen the creation of more that 500 new jobs per week since my address last year."
Then, Blunt addressed the 2006 agenda.
"Notably, the new budget is balanced without new job destroying taxes, and without borrowing or accounting gimics."
Blunt announced increases in state employee salaries, education, agriculture and economic development spending.
He also announced a 10 million dollar program to increase the quality of in-home health-care, and increased spending in the development of alternative energy research.
Blunt also announced a significant change in the way gasoline is sold in Missouri.
"I ask that we give Missouri's heartland economy a major and lasting boost, by requiring that motor fuel sold in Missouri for passenger cars and trucks, contain ten percent ethanol."
Critics of the governor last year focused on the controversial cuts to Medicate.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Charles Shields supports the fiscal choices, and says those decisions are the reason for the current-day surplus.
"Obviously, last year, even after we struggled with everything we did to medicate and made all the changes, we didn't cut medicate. We slowed the rate of growth. And that's what you're seeing reflected in this budget."
Senate Minority Leader Maida Coleman says she was surprised by something the governor did not say during the address.
"I wish the governor would have addressed stem cell research. Stem cell research will save lives of people all over this country, all over this world, and specifically in the state of Missouri. And I believe that based on what the governor says he stands for, relative to pro-life issues, that the governor should have addressed stem cells."
From the State Capitol, I'm Daniel Frumson.
Education Governor Blunt's proposed 2006 agenda features large percentage increases in a number of areas. The governor plans to increase spending for social services, including Medicare, up by over 17 percent, while increasing spending for economic development by over 22 percent. But families with kids in college hoping for similar spending increases for higher education have a not so pleasant surprise from Missouri's lawmakers. Daniel Frumson is in Jefferson City, and tells us what to expect with regard to higher education.
During his State of the State address, Blunt's first new policy announcement was a seven percent and two percent spending increase in K through 12 and higher education respectively.
"My priorities remain clear; from preschool to college, the state budget should reflect the number one fiscal priority of state governemt: to educate and prepare our children for the 21st century."
Some Democrats do not identify with the governor's assessment of his commitment to education.
House Minority Leader Jeff Harris of Columbia.
"The two percent in my opinion is not adequate support for higher education particularly in the 21st century, when a college degree really is the ticket to the American Dream. Our national rate of inflation is 3.389 percent. So a 2 percent higher educational increase doesn't even keep up with the rate of inflation. So what you're going to likely see for hard working students and their parents are tuition increases at our public colleges and universities. And when you see that, you're going to see folks who are denied access to college, denied hope, denied opportunity, denied the ability to truly achieve the American Dream."
Senate Majority Leader Charles Shields says legislators are not ignoring the problem.
"I think most legislators realize that families continue to struggle to pay the cost of higher education and if there's programs that we can do to make is easier, we're going to look at that."
Shield's counterpart, Minority Leader Maida Coleman says she sees no good reason why more cannot be put into higher education.
"You know the governor continues to tout that he is the education governor. And certainly, with the surplus, again, why can't we put more than two percent in higher education. My premise is that this is an election year, he's going spread the wealth around in a lot of different places."
University of Missouri System President Elson Floyd attended the governor's address, and said the two percent increase is progress, and educators are pleased with the increase.
From the State Capitol, I'm Daniel Frumson