We heard plenty of positives in Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State address on Wednesday and also some areas that need a rethink.
• Parson called for a statewide use tax, asking lawmakers to pass a bill to allow the state to collect sales taxes from online retailers that don’t have a physical presence in the state. He said small businesses “are getting crushed right now because they cannot compete with huge online retailers.” This would be great for small businesses in Joplin, Carl Junction, Neosho and other area cities where voters have rejected ballot measures for citywide use taxes.
• Parson, who cut funding to higher education when the pandemic first struck, asked lawmakers to restore primary funding for public four-year colleges and universities to pre-pandemic levels. It would certainly help schools such as Missouri Southern State University, which has struggled with cuts and withholdings in state appropriations for years.
• The governor’s budget proposal includes about $1.9 billion to expand Medicaid health insurance coverage to low-income adults, as approved by voters last year. The net cost to the state is estimated to be about $120 million next fiscal year. Parson had objected to the expansion, but said he would follow the will of voters, and it’s good that he appears committed to implementing it.
• The COVID-19 pandemic still is a major concern for the state, and our government leaders should take it seriously by demonstrating their commitment to preventive measures. Parson should have considered giving a remote or prerecorded speech, as some governors in other states have done, to promote social distancing and safety.
The Associated Press reported that some state senators didn’t wear masks during Parson’s speech on the Senate floor, and many guests in the Senate gallery didn’t either. That’s disappointing given that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the wearing of masks as one of the key ways to curb the spread of the virus, and Parson himself has encouraged mask-wearing — but not required it — many times.
• The governor continues to praise the state’s handling of the pandemic. In his speech, he said his administration shipped more than 2 million gowns, 18 million gloves, 8 million surgical masks, 5 million N95 masks and 1 million face shields to health care workers since the virus first hit the state last year, and he also said more than 400,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered in Missouri.
Yet reality presents a starkly different picture. According to the CDC, Missouri ranks last among states when it comes to the percentage of residents who have received an initial vaccine dose. And our number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 far exceed those of neighboring states Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas.
It will largely be up to state lawmakers to decide where Missouri goes from here, and whether they want to follow Parson’s recommendations or draft their own budget priorities. After Wednesday’s State of the State address, there is plenty to consider.