Missouri Gov. Mike Parson takes oath, promises a ‘fresh start’
Defense will be the name of the game for the Kansas City Chiefs in the playoffs. The Missouri General Assembly should implement a similar strategy in this next legislative session. Success in 2019 will mean staving off numerous short-sighted attempts to undo the will of the people.
That means playing defense in Jefferson City.
Overzealous lawmakers already are targeting at anti-union legislation and ignoring the 67 percent of Missourians who voted against a right-to-work law in August. Some Republicans want to undo a key provision of the Clean Missouri ethics package that would change the way the state draws legislative districts. That passed with 62 percent support.
Meantime, some legislators are focusing on the initiative petition process, saying they want to make it tougher for citizens to go around the legislature.
Overhauling any of these three measures would be a tremendous setback for Missouri. Instead, lawmakers and Gov. Mike Parson would wise to make proactive moves aimed at better positioning the state to compete in a fast-changing world.
Parson has laid out two goals for the session that serve as a logical starting point. Since he took over the state from the scandal-plagued Eric Greitens on June 1, Parson has made workforce development and state infrastructure two of his priorities.
Workforce development is a fancy term for preparing Missourians for the jobs of tomorrow. Workers face mounting challenges thanks to ever-evolving technology and automation. All this requires a special emphasis on vocational and higher education, and Parson is right to spotlight that.
His second priority is a tougher task. Voters in November rejected a gas tax increase that would have maintained Missouri’s highway network, the seventh-largest in the country. That marked the second rejection of a tax increase for roads in recent years. So what’s the path forward now?
This already is shaping up as Parson’s biggest challenge and, make no mistake, gubernatorial leadership will be essential to sorting this one out. Parson and lawmakers will have to weigh the voters’ clear dislike for higher taxes against the undeniable need to care for an essential state asset.
We’re eager to see what Parson proposes.
The governor also has an opportunity to move the state in the right direction on early childhood education, a topic he’s broached, but without detail. This is a conversation that Missouri needs to have because in recent years, only 13 percent of school districts in the state offered preschool.
Another priority: mitigating the damage done as a result of a Missouri Department of Revenue miscalculation that caused some employers to withhold too little in state taxes from workers’ paychecks. That could lead to sticker shock come tax time. Extending the deadline for when state taxes are due would be a good step.
Lawmakers also must finally establish a statewide prescription drug monitoring program to prevent the overprescribing of opioids. Sad fact: Missouri remains the only state without one.
Other priorities include increased funding for prisons plagued by nearly 800 vacancies in correctional officer positions and improved staffing for the state’s child abuse hotline where a recent audit found that callers often face extended wait times. That’s unacceptable.
Legislators also should reconsider some recent tax cuts, given the state’s overwhelming needs, and finally move on Medicaid expansion and early voting as other states have done. But with entrenched GOP majorities, those scenarios are unlikely.
First things first: Lawmakers should stop bad ideas that ignore the will of the voters from taking root.