JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson, during his second State of the State address on Wednesday, urged lawmakers to "strengthen" the state's gun laws in order to "target violent criminals" and cautioned Missourians against expanding Medicaid later this year.
The comments were among the highlights of Parson's annual address to lawmakers, where he also presented the state's $30 billion spending blueprint for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
It was also Parson's last State of the State address before appearing on the November 2020 ballot. Parson, a Republican, made implicit jabs at his likely opponent, State Auditor Nicole Galloway, but shied away from coarse rhetoric, instead urging lawmakers to find common ground.
Parson invited the mayors of the state's four largest cities — including St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson — to watch the speech as he advocated for "strengthening our laws to target violent criminals."
The governor voiced support in November for restrictions on gun ownership for minors, domestic abusers and violent offenders. Legislative leaders have so far balked, saying such proposals would violate the 2nd Amendment.
"I have never wavered in my support for the Second Amendment," Parson told lawmakers. "But, we all have to understand the very real issues of violent crime affecting our neighborhoods and the potential consequences of doing nothing."
Krewson applauded Parson’s call for cooperation.
“We work together on things that we can work together. I think that’s a good message for everybody,” Krewson said after the speech. “I think these four mayors that have come together are making some progress.”
Parson also advocated for new spending on anti-violence efforts, including $1 million for local police, sheriffs and prosecutors to access in order to protect victims and witnesses during criminal investigations.
He also wants four more Highway Patrol troopers, at a cost of $626,732, to patrol highways in St. Louis as part of a state program that frees up local police resources for other purposes.
The public safety spending was outlined in a $30 billion budget plan Parson unveiled on Wednesday.
Parson said the state of Missouri's economy was strong.
"More people have more money in their pockets," Parson said. "At 3.1 percent, our unemployment rate continues to remain at historic lows."
The budget plan fully satisfies the state's K-12 education funding formula with a $10 million boost, gives the majority of state workers a 2% raise starting next January and, in the absence of an increase in the motor fuel tax, again takes $50 million out of the state's general checkbook for transportation projects.
Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he remains leery of using general revenue dollars for road and bridge projects.
But, he said agreeing to raise the state’s gasoline tax is unlikely for Republicans in an election year.
“Obviously it’s an election year and it may be very difficult to have that conversation,” Schatz said.
The spending plan, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, assumes 1.9% revenue growth over the current fiscal year. Parson proposed leaving $100 million on the state's bottom line for unexpected expenses.
Parson blasted a proposed expansion of Medicaid, which could appear on the state's November ballot, saying that "expanding the system comes at the expense of other services," describing the plan as a "massive tax increase that Missourians cannot afford."
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said past analyses show Medicaid expansion will actually save the state money.
"So I will say to Missouri citizens: 'Don't listen to that because it's simply not true,'" she said.
Overall Medicaid costs are expected continue their upward climb next year, increasing to $11.7 billion, up from $11.1 billion this year. Parson's budget increases from $2.3 billion to $2.5 billion the state's commitment from its general coffers for the program.
Parson also proposed eliminating a waiting list for developmentally disabled people who need residential care.
Under the current budget, enough money was set aside for about 440 people to receive services at a time when officials estimated about 1,300 will need the assistance.
The new plan earmarks $22.2 million to eliminate the waiting list, as well as $93 million to pay caregivers higher wages.
Parson also said "I also want to start discussing ways to improve teacher pay," adding that he would ask local and state education officials to craft a plan to do so.
Unlike last year, when Parson had taken office months earlier, the governor now faces a likely opponent in the 2020 election, state Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.
"Make no mistake, in this arena you will be attacked," Parson said. "You will have to endure reading nothing but speculation about your motives, your commitment and your beliefs. But, you also have to choose to stand up against these attempts to divide one another, and instead be a leader."
The state auditor released a video rebuttal to Parson's speech as he was delivering it, calling on Parson to restore coverage to Missouri children "purged" from Medicaid.
The video profiles two mothers whose children recently lost state Medicaid coverage, Galloway's campaign said.
Since the beginning of 2018, almost 130,000 people been dropped from the state's Medicaid program, most of them children, taking total enrollment to just over 846,000.
The reasons for the falling enrollment are disputed. Republican lawmakers and state officials have said an improved economy is the main driver, while advocates have pointed to flaws in the state's system for verifying people's eligibility.
“Governor Parson has resisted calls to investigate, has offered excuses, and now refuses to take accountability for the purge of eligible kids from their health insurance. This is unacceptable,” Galloway said in a news release. “Governor Parson must act and restore coverage for every eligible child in Missouri."
Parson said his administration had worked to find Medicaid savings, and that problems with the public program existed before he took office in June 2018.
"The truth is that this system has been broken for many years," he said.
Kurt Erickson and Tynan Stewart of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.