(The Center Square) - Republican Missouri Governor Mike Parson's proposed budget includes almost a billion dollars to rebuild and expand I-70 from St. Louis to Kansas City.
"To those who say we can't afford it, I say we can't afford not to," Parson said during his State of the State address at the capitol on Wednesday.
The announcement of $859 million to add a third lane to the interstate immediately brought the entire legislature to its feet for an ovation. The rest of Parson's proposed budget had Democrats giving standing ovations for fully funding K-12 education ($117.5 million) and school transportation ($233.4 million). The total proposed budget is approximately $50 billion.
"I was the first one to stand up," House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said. "Our entire caucus stood up more than the other side. I'm grateful we are in a time, even if we are in a super minority, to be able to stand up with our governor. I think this is the most we've stood for a State of the State. But I feel like he took a lot of the budget priorities we have been fighting for. While we're not going to agree on everything, we're happy with this."
Parson spent a significant amount of time highlighting proposals for education. He wants $56 million to expand pre-kindergarten for all low-income Missouri children. Approximately 50% of all Missouri families with pre-kindergarten children would be able to enroll their children in free expanded programs through their local public school or charter school.
"There is a clear need to do better when it comes to early childhood," Parson said. "Let's meet this moment for Missouri kids, families and businesses."
Parson also proposed $70.8 million to increase the core funding for the state's four-year higher education institutions, community colleges and the State Technical College of Missouri.
Toward the end of the speech, Parson introduced 14 school children from across the state and they walked down the middle aisle of the House of Representatives. Parson then challenged lawmakers to remember them while working on bills during the remaining four months of the session.
"Looking at these kids standing here today, I am confident there is nothing we cannot overcome for them," Parson said. "... If we're not willing to sacrifice for these kids, support their dreams, or stand up for their future, then we must ask ourselves why are we here?"
Parson proposed spending $16.8 million to assist the state's Medicaid program in enrolling those eligible for services as the federal public health emergency brought on by COVID-19 begins to wind down. He also stated Missouri's maternal mortality rate, one of the highest in the nation, was "absolutely unacceptable." He proposed $4.4 million to implement a new plan to provide support and prevent deaths of expecting and postpartum mothers.
"If we can't get it right for the mothers and children across our state, we might as well pack our bags and let somebody else occupy our seats," Parson said.
Quade said the state and nation's reaction to last year's reversal of Roe vs. Wade at the U.S. Supreme Court is leading the majority to provide more services for women and families.
"When we knocked on doors, we heard how people are frustrated by that change," Quade said. "Now we're seeing our colleagues on the other side of the aisle come around and help women with pregnancies and afterward. This is something we've been asking for and we have seen a shift."