On Wednesday, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens will speak to a state that stands at a crossroads.
As he prepares to deliver his second State of the State address, the governor has much to consider:
Missouri has now recovered from the Great Recession. Roughly 2.9 million people were on the job in the state in November, yielding an unemployment rate of just 3.4 percent — far below the national average.
Both of the state’s major cities, Kansas City and St. Louis, are close to full employment. Missouri’s economy grew at a 3 percent rate in the second quarter of 2017, better than Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, New York and California.
As a result of that growth — and several prudent decisions — Missouri’s books remain balanced. Its credit rating is strong. In 2017, for the first time ever, lawmakers fully funded spending for elementary and secondary schools.
Missourians enjoy a high-quality park system and popular amenities such as major league sports.
Yet clouds gather. Left unaddressed, the state’s uneven quality of life will likely decline, decimating rural and urban areas alike.
Kansas City and St. Louis remain cursed by murders and violence. While homicide rates in other urban areas approach record lows, the two Missouri communities have yet to figure out how to stop the bloodshed.
At the same time, opioid addiction has crippled some rural areas, leading to overburdened health care facilities and families torn apart by drugs and violence.
A child born in Missouri in 2014 can expect to live almost two fewer years than the national average for life expectancy. That’s the likely result of uneven health care, poor health habits and smoking, which is higher than the national average.
Missouri stubbornly refuses to expand Medicaid and raise the tobacco tax. Some of its residents will die prematurely as a result.
Wages are stuck, a problem Missouri shares with the rest of the United States. Poverty remains a major issue in many counties south of the Missouri River.
Education is a challenge across the state. Test scores inched up in 2017, but fully 40 percent of the state’s eighth graders are considered less than proficient or advanced in English. The numbers are worse for math and science.
Some legislators have responded by calling for new tax cuts. Yet cutting taxes at a time of full employment and relatively robust growth is precisely the wrong approach — it will do little to boost an already healthy economy, while leaving critical needs unaddressed.
The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining, not when the rain comes.
We hope Missouri legislators take the time to fully understand this budget equation before slashing taxes in 2018.
The state can also use this year to improve the tone of its politics. Secrecy, belligerence and ambition should play no role in doing the people’s work.
Progress is possible in Missouri. But it won’t wait forever — other states are investing in schools, roads, health care and public safety.
In 2018, Missouri should make a similar choice.