Governor puts money where his mouth is

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By Daniel P. Mehan, President and CEO
Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
     Missouri, did you happen to watch the big speech on January 27?
    It was Gov. Mike Parson’s annual State of the State address. If you are like most people I’ve spoken with in recent days, you might have missed it.


    Sadly, the State of the State typically isn’t must-see-TV for many Missourians. But it should be, especially this year. Let me fill you in on why it was a big deal — warning, there are spoilers below.
    The annual State of the State speech is the governor’s chance to talk about the state’s priorities and outline the coming year’s budget.
    While fighting COVID-19 remains the foremost concern, Gov. Mike Parson also spent plenty of time this year on two areas that are critical to our state’s economic recovery: helping Missouri workers attain skills for the jobs of tomorrow and investing in our transportation infrastructure.
    The governor’s priorities closely align with what the Missouri Chamber is hearing from employers across the state.
    Alongside critically needed protections against COVID-19 lawsuits—which Gov. Parson said should be the first bill passed in 2021 (and we strongly agree)—Gov. Parson is asking lawmakers to intensify our state’s work to help students and economically sidelined Missourians attain the skills needed for opportunities that will arise in the post-pandemic economy.
    The employment situation in Missouri today is almost a paradox. On one hand, we have an elevated number of people out of work due to the pandemic. On the other, we have employers struggling to find workers—just like they were prior to the pandemic. The problem is that many unemployed Missourians don’t have the skills needed for today’s job opportunities. State government can help fix this problem and Gov. Parson seems intent to do everything he can to address this.
    Furthermore, the governor’s speech also made it clear that he agrees Missouri can’t afford to wait for action on our crumbling infrastructure. He recognizes that the best investment Missouri can make to bolster our economic recovery is an investment in our infrastructure.
    While the words sounded good, those of us who work in this business know to wait for the details—the hundreds of pages of proposed budget documents that are shared just after the governor ends the State of the State speech.
    Reading the governor’s proposed budget, it’s very clear that this governor puts his money where his mouth is.
    He talked about helping Missourians get skills to match today’s job opportunities and his budget includes bold investments in innovative workforce programs like Career Ready 101, WorkKeys and MoExcels. He also plans to increasing funding for the Fast Track program to help adult Missourians access the education they need for in-demand careers. None of this comes at the expense of Missouri’s public schools, which the governor proposes to fully fund.
    On infrastructure, the governor is continuing to push Missouri forward so we can capitalize on our position at the axis of trade across North America. He has placed money in his budget to improve our airports and further invest in our river ports.
    He also proposes to spend millions on broadband infrastructure to help more Missourians fully access the digital economy.
    The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry was very pleased with the governor’s plans for the year. It’s both a very strong response to the short-term challenges posed by COVID-19 while remaining fully aligned with the long-term vision for our state outlined in the Missouri Chamber’s Missouri 2030 plan.
    If the legislature follows through with these plans, I’m certain the state of our state will be even better when the governor makes his speech this time next year.