Gov. Mike Parson’s vision for Missouri? More funding for infrastructure but not much else

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s first State of the State speech was as important for what it didn’t say as for what it did.

There was no discussion about expanding Medicaid. There was no mention of state support for a substantial expansion of early childhood education, although the budget promises full funding for the K-12 education formula.

No additional money for higher education, although four-year state universities will get $2 million each for deferred maintenance.

The governor didn’t talk about rolling back any of November’s Clean Missouri ethics reforms, or medical marijuana, or the increased minimum wage, or revisiting right-to-work legislation. There was no talk of sports gambling or an online sales tax.

Instead, Parson said he wants to focus on two agenda items: developing a 21st-century workforce and improving the state’s infrastructure.

The governor’s modest to-do list may reflect the reality of Missouri’s slumping budget, which is less flexible because of ill-advised tax cuts approved in previous years. He called for spending the state’s money more efficiently and promised to eliminate more than 400 positions in Missouri government.

But he did not suggest any effort to shore up revenue. That means, at best, a “status quo” Missouri where critical services such as schools and health care will come under unfortunate and unnecessary pressure.

The governor’s support for infrastructure improvements should be applauded. Parson said he wants to borrow $351 million to repair 250 dilapidated bridges. The borrowing would be paid for with budget savings and revenue growth over several years.

He also offered a $50 million program to help communities with road and bridge repair.

But it isn’t close to enough. That’s why lawmakers must continue the search for money for more infrastructure improvements — including the use of additional tax authority, if available, for road and bridge construction.

Additional funding for workforce development and education are also a step in the right direction. But the governor’s plan only increases that spending by roughly $75 million, which is a small drop in a very large bucket.

Parson asked for a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for state workers, an increase they deserve. Lawmakers should approve it. He plans to close one prison in Cameron, a proposal that also deserves support.

Missourians should be troubled by the governor’s lack of support for Medicaid expansion, which could bring hundreds of millions of dollars — and thousands of jobs — to the state. In fact, Parson wants to “curb” Medicaid spending, an alarming warning sign.

“Almost 40 percent of Missourians live in rural areas,” he said. “We are committed to making sure they too have access to both preventive and emergency care.” Expanding Medicaid would be the best way to do that.

Missouri lawmakers’ obsession with unneeded tax cuts will hurt progress on a broad range of issues. That’s disappointing.

Parson promised a “vision” during his speech. That vision is clear: a few changes around the margins, but overall a state stuck, without enough money to do much to make Missourians’ lives better.