JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson wants to use the state’s record budget surplus to widen Interstate 70, but only in certain places.
A big focus in this year’s State of the State address, the governor’s request to lawmakers to spend $900 million to add an extra lane on I-70 in both directions in the suburban areas of Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia. Missouri currently has a multi-billion-dollar surplus, but Parson said his reason is to only focus on those congested parts is due to the cost.
“In this state we’ve been talking for years and years about doing something on I-70, and you know the talking needs to stop and the doing needs to get doing,” Parson said.
It’s a major project that comes with a hefty price tag. Parson’s request to widen and rebuild the I-70 corridor is expected to cost $859 million. The proposal would widen the interstate to three lanes in each direction for nearly 20 miles from Blue Springs to Odessa, 20 miles from Wentzville to Warrenton, and 13 miles from Midway to Route Z in mid-Missouri.
“I’m not sure we can really afford to do it all right now, because you have to think through this long term,” Parson said. “It’s a cautionary way to do it just in case the worst-case scenario did happen, but I’m really confident by doing it this way, we’ll be able to get the whole project complete. If we can get those major hubs put in place, then we’re going to be able to connect it together.”
In his nearly $52 billion budget proposal, the governor wants to focus on infrastructure, education, workforce development and childcare. All issues that both sides of the aisle wanted to hear. Unlike in the past, Parson received multiple standing ovations from both sides of the aisle.
“I honestly mean it when I say Gov. Parson’s budget in our opinion was a good budget, it was a decent budget,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence said. “I do think we have to figure out I-70 and if we can’t figure it out with the surplus we have right now, then I don’t know when we do figure it out.”
Parson also urged the General Assembly to fully funding school transportation and the K-12 formula, provide $250 million to create an education stabilization fund and fund $78 million in childcare subsidy rates for providers and offer tax credits to businesses who provide on-site daycare.
“Whether that’s the local levels, whether that’s banks, schools, hospitals, and try to get them to incentivize ways to get them to put in daycare systems that they run, and they have and what’s best for their areas,” Parson said. “That’s keeping people out of the workforce when you’re trying to do childcare and if you’re one of those young families, and you’ve got children out there, you know the expense factor of that.”
His budget request also includes the cost to continue a program for schools to pay every teacher at least $38,000. Under state statute, the baseline salary is at $25,000. Of the state’s 500-plus school districts, Parson said more than 356 districts participated in the program last year, increasing the salaries for more than 6,000 teachers.
“I think taking a teacher from $25,000 to $38,000 is a huge plus for our state and I do think $38,000 for a baseline pay is doable for a new teacher,” Parson said.
Rizzo said $38,000 is a good improvement, but it’s nowhere near what it takes to raise a family.
“If you’re a single mom, with two kids, and you want to be a teacher, and you’re passionate about it, I don’t know how you make ends meet on that,” Rizzo said. “We’re going to keep pushing for more.”
In Parson’s budget request, there’s also $250 million set aside for an education stabilization fund for a rainy day to be used for the future.
“I think it’s a good idea, I also think it can be focused on teacher pay if you were to use the fund for formula,” Rizzo said “Then, you can free up some dollars to do pay increases or something like that, but I do absolutely think it’s a good idea to set aside a bunch of money for the future that we know we’re going to need eventually.”
Parson also wants to invest $4 million into a new maternal morality plan. He is requesting the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) implement a new plan to help maternal mortality. DHSS estimates that 75% of maternal deaths are preventable with at least one change to treatment, whether that be to the patient or to the provider or community. Missouri currently ranks 44th in the nation for its abnormally high maternal mortality rate.
“It’s a sad statistic, when we think of all it takes is one service of some kind in that process, and you save 75% of peoples’ lives,” Parson said.
Where the difference lies between party lines is public safety. The governor is proposing $50 million for public safety grants for schools, following a deadly school shooting in St. Louis City at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School last fall.
“If the day does come, make sure those schools are prepared, that building is secure and the action is taken if you need to take action,” Parson said. “I think we’ve seen right here in this state, the way the school reacted the way law enforcement reacted, taking out the shooter is the best thing that ever happened.”
Across the aisle, Democrats say tougher laws are needed.
“This incident in St. Louis, that was a complete tragedy,” Rizzo said. “People did the right thing, they called the police and said this guy shouldn’t have a gun, and they couldn’t do anything about it because we don’t have a red flag law.”
Parson is also asking lawmakers to increase pay for state workers by 8.7%. He’s also asking for an $2 an hour raise for employees who work overnight hours. Currently, there are 7,000 open positions across state government, which is why the governor said he’s asking for this request to be on his desk no later than March 1.
Rizzo said the governor is making up for years of underfunding. He believes Parson’s proposals will be harder to pass by Republicans, but will be favored by Democrats.
“It is good to finally be able to dig us out of the hole that the Republican Majority has put us in the last two decades,” Rizzo said. ” I think that current Republican ideas are 10-year-old Democrat ideas. The hardest part is going to be getting through this ultra conservative legislature. He’s going to have a lot more problems in his own party than he will from Democrats.”
Another priority for Parson, spending $35 million to improve railroad crossings across the state following a deadly Amtrak train derailment last June in north central Missouri. Four people were killed after the train hit a dump truck at a crossing without any warning signs in Mendon.
“When you lose four lives and multiple people injured like it was, that possibly could have been avoided if you would have had a crossing there,” Parson said.